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Israeli troops pull out of Gaza Strip

An Israeli armored vehicle maneuvers in a staging area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Associated Press

An Israeli armored vehicle maneuvers in a staging area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

JERUSALEM — Israel's last troops left the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, although the cease-fire was frayed when its navy opened fire toward beaches in northern Gaza, and smugglers' tunnels that were targeted in the 23-day campaign against Hamas were active again at the Egyptian border.

The Israeli military said it would investigate allegations by the United Nations and human rights groups that it wrongly used white phosphorous — an ingredient in weapons that inflicts horrific burns. Although the use of phosphorus weapons is permitted by international law, Amnesty International accused Israel of committing a "war crime" by using them in densely populated areas.

As Israeli troops departed and the focus shifted to cementing the fragile cease-fire, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni went to Europe to rally international support for a plan to halt weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.

A Palestinian human rights group said it had completed its count of the death toll from the Israeli operation, putting the number of dead Palestinians at 1,284 — with 894 of those civilians, including 280 children or teenagers.

The Israeli military says 500 Palestinian militants were killed. Gaza's militant groups say they lost 158 fighters.

Thirteen Israelis also were killed, 10 of them soldiers.

A key goal of the offensive, aimed at punishing Hamas militants who have been lobbing rockets at Israel for the last eight years, was destroying the hundreds of tunnels along the 8-mile border used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

Israel said it had destroyed about 60 percent of the tunnels, but already Wednesday there were signs they were back in action.

AP Television News video Wednesday showed Palestinian smugglers standing on top of a tanker truck, filling it with gasoline that was brought through a tunnel from Egypt. The video also showed workers clearing blocked tunnels and bulldozers making other repairs.

Gaza doctor wants Israeli explanation

The Gaza doctor who recounted live on Israeli television how his three daughters and niece were killed by shelling demanded Wednesday that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak explain their deaths. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, a 55-year-old gynecologist who speaks Hebrew after training in two Israeli hospitals, sobbed as he reported the deaths shortly after an Israeli shell struck his home in the northern town of Jebaliya on Friday. The peace activist, who was involved in promoting joint Israeli-Palestinian projects, returned to inspect his destroyed Gaza home and to reunite with his five surviving children.

Ban lifted: Israel's Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that two Arab parties can run in elections slated for Feb. 10. The parties were recently barred by a parliamentary committee on the ground that they "supported terrorism."

Israeli troops pull out of Gaza Strip 01/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 11:19pm]

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