Jerusalem, Jan.19 (ANI): Israel has begun withdrawing troops from the Gaza Strip after a unilateral ceasefire came into effect, ending over three weeks of hostilities with the militant group Hamas.
The withdrawal of troops comes as Egypt is playing host to an international summit of European and Arab leaders aimed at shoring up the truce. In Cairo, officials are scheduled to hold talks with the Hamas leadership in a bid to make them accept the cease-fire arrangement.
European leaders called on Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and on militants to stop firing rockets, before heading to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Israeli military confirmed troop withdrawals after witnesses saw Israeli tanks and troops pull back from key positions in and around Gaza City toward the border fence which surrounds the impoverished territory.
Olmert announced late on Saturday that he had ordered an end to offensive operations in Gaza after 22 days of combat but that troops would remain and fire back if attacked.
Israel and Egypt have sealed the territory off from all but vital humanitarian aid since Hamas seized power in June 2007.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, meanwhile, stressed that Israel is not a partner to any agreement with Hamas, a group which is sworn to the Jewish state's destruction.
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has created a "price list" based on which it will formulate its response to future Hamas attacks following the implementation of a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Olmert said Sunday night that the remaining troops would leave Gaza "quickly" if the truce held, and IDF sources said it was likely that the withdrawal would be completed by the end of the week.
According to the paper, a force from the Golani Brigade came under fire from Hamas gunmen early Sunday morning, and they had to retaliate.
Throughout the day, some 15 rockets were fired into Israel but the IDF estimated that it was due to lack of communication between the Hamas leaders who decided to institute a truce and fighters who were left on the ground.
The IDF plans to give Hamas a day or two to completely stop the attacks and if they continue, the military has received permission from the government to renew ground operations. Under the cease-fire, the IDF will not assassinate senior Hamas leaders who come out of hiding but will renew targeted killings if the rocket attacks continue. (ANI)