GAZA CITY (USA TODAY)— Israel's military said Tuesday it has withdrawn all of its troops from Gaza, effectively wrapping up its ground operation, although the situation is still volatile and the four-week-old conflict has not ended.
The announcement from Israel that its troops would exit the coastal enclave came ahead of the start of a 72-hour cease-fire — now in effect — by Hamas and Israel. Previous cease-fires have been short-lived and ended with both sides blaming each other for undermining peace efforts.
The truce — if it holds — will be followed by indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo aimed at creating a deal that would prevent future conflict between the two sides.
Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift their seven-year border blockade on Gaza and has called for international funds to rebuild the shattered coastal territory. Israel is reluctant to open Gaza's borders until Hamas is disarmed.
Just minutes ahead of the start of the truce, shelling still echoed across Gaza and Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel.
Still, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal is complete and that Israel will now "maintain defensive lines outside Gaza."
He said the withdrawal follows Israel's destruction of 32 cross-border tunnels that permit militants to carry out attacks against Israel.
Hamas has not commented on the withdrawal.
Nearly 1,900 Palestinians — most of them civilians — have been killed since the fighting broke out on July 8, according to Gaza's health ministry. Israel's military says the conflict has left 67 Israelis dead, all but three of them soldiers.
Some Israelis on Tuesday were skeptical about Hamas' commitment to the cease-fire.
"It's not worth negotiating with them because they are not reliable and they broke all their commitments," said Idan Zigel, 25, from Tel Aviv.
Khalid Ali, 39, from Gaza, reflected on the cease-fire but also the trail of destruction the month-long war has caused.
"Our children should at least enjoy a short time of fun, wearing new clothing, playing with toys, but many children are in their graves now, and will not get that chance."