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Gazans survey ruins as Israeli army exits

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel accelerated its troop withdrawal from Gaza on Monday with the aim of finishing by the inauguration of Barack Obama as Hamas reasserted control over the rubble-filled streets. Tens of thousands of Palestinians sought to cope with destroyed homes and traumatized lives.

Decomposing bodies continued to be uncovered in the worst-hit areas, with the death toll for the 22-day war that ended on Sunday passing 1,300, according to health officials. The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas held, and police took up positions directing traffic. A few bulldozers began the enormous task of clearing the ruins. Garbage was everywhere, devastation rampant.

A senior Israeli official said that if Hamas continued to withhold its rocket fire at Israel, it would be better if the troops were out of Gaza by the time the new American president took office, so he could concentrate on rebuilding Gaza and a more moderate Palestinian leadership than on pressuring Israel to withdraw. The official spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Hamas held its first news conference since the war. Two government spokesmen stood in front of a destroyed compound that housed a number of ministries and asserted that their movement had been victorious.

"Israel has succeeded in killing everything except the will of the people," said Taher al Nunu, the main government spokesman. "They said they were going to dismantle the resistance and demolish the rockets but after this historic victory, the government is steadfast, we are working and they were not able to stop the rockets."

He said 5,000 homes had been destroyed and 20,000 heavily damaged. Mosques and government buildings were also hit in the military campaign that Israel carried out with the aim of ending years of rocket fire on Israeli civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due today, and at an Arab summit in Kuwait, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pledged a $1-billion contribution to a reconstruction fund that Palestinians are seeking to establish.

In Israel, radio stations played Zionist songs and President Shimon Peres asserted that the army had achieved both a military and moral victory as he visited wounded soldiers.

The Israeli public has its doubts, however. According to a poll commissioned by Channel 10 on Sunday, only 41 percent of Israelis thought that the operation succeeded and 41 percent thought that it hadn't, a stark contrast to polls during the war, in which 78 percent thought that Israel was winning.

Gazans survey ruins as Israeli army exits 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 11:02pm]

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