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Israel slows exit from Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon inspected the devastation wrought by Israel's onslaught in Gaza on Tuesday, leading a moment of silence at the smoldering U.N. headquarters as the territory's militant Hamas rulers, triumphant at having survived, held victory rallies amid the ruins.

Israel slowed its withdrawal of forces from Gaza as the two-day cease-fire with Hamas suffered its first violations. Israeli troops twice came under fire, and eight mortars were shot at Israel, all falling short. Israel responded with airstrikes on launching sites.

Israel would not comment on the pace of withdrawal, but Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent reported that some soldiers held positions in northern Gaza to make sure Hamas did not retake rocket-launching sites.

Ban, appearing stern and saddened at a ceremony at the burned-out U.N. headquarters in Gaza, demanded a full investigation into strikes on U.N. facilities. He asked the crowd to honor victims of the offensive, who included nearly 40 Palestinians who had sought refuge at a U.N. school shelled by Israel.

"It has been especially troubling and heartbreaking for me as secretary-general that I couldn't end this faster," he said. He warned the truce is fragile and called on Israel and Hamas to "exercise maximum restraint and nurture the cease-fire."

Thousands of Hamas supporters thronged a square outside the remains of the Parliament building in Gaza City, which was heavily damaged in an Israeli airstrike at the outset of the war. Two men hoisted a sign in carefully scripted Hebrew reading, "The resistance will be victorious, Israel has been defeated."

Ban later visited the rocket-scarred Israeli town of Sderot, where he called Hamas' attacks over the last eight years against Israeli residents "appalling and unacceptable."

Israel and Hamas both ceased fire on Sunday, after an offensive that began Dec. 27.

Israel denies claim on munitions

Israel on Tuesday denied allegations it used depleted uranium munitions in Gaza, accusing the Arab nations that made the report of "particularly poor propaganda."

On Monday, Arab nations asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate reports that uranium traces were found in victims of Israeli shelling in the Gaza Strip.

Border crossings: U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes, who is expected to arrive in Israel today, said a top priority will be to get all Gaza border crossings opened not only for food and medicine but for desperately needed construction materials, which Israel has refused to allow in since Hamas seized power in June 2007.

Israel slows exit from Gaza 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:25pm]

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