GAZA, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- A hard-won peace was restored in the Gaza Strip Monday as Israeli troops began pulling out of the belt after their 22-day onslaught was halted by a tentative ceasefire deal with Hamas.
The truce, taking effect at 2 a.m. local time (midnight GMT)Sunday, was declared late Saturday by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who said the goals of the operation in Gaza had been "met in full."
"We reached all of our objectives in Gaza," Olmert told a press conference in Tel Aviv, adding Hamas had been dealt a heavy blow by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and its leaders were in hiding.
The truce took effect just days before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who has said Mideast peace will be apriority for his administration.
In response to the ceasefire declaration, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a quick influx of humanitarian aid to the isolated enclave, while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a ceasefire must be durable.
Amid concerns over possible future Palestinian attacks, Israel is widely expected to retain some forces in Gaza. The returning troops were stationed along the border, said local news service Ynet.
Hamas had initially vowed to keep fighting until all enemy troops left Gaza, but said 12 hours later that it would hold its fire to give Israeli forces one week to withdraw.
Despite the destruction suffered, the prime minister of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, claimed "a heavenly victory" on Al-Jazeera's Arabic news channel.
It is believed that a temporary lull would pave the way for a possible lasting truce deal between the Jewish state and the Islamist movement in light of the intensifying international mediation efforts led by Egypt.
Egypt has invited Israel and the Palestinian groups for more talks on the means of consolidating a ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave.
Separate meetings with the two sides involved in the Gaza conflict were scheduled for Jan. 22 in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a press release.
The talks will seek to clinch a deal on a package of moves to implement an Egyptian ceasefire proposal presented by President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 6.
While Hamas has asked for the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza as a precondition for any long-term truce, Israel demands an international mechanism to curb arms smuggling into Gaza and thus prevent Hamas from rearming.
More than 1,300 Gazans have been killed and over 5,500 wounded in Israel's massive onslaught since Dec. 27, dubbed Operation CastLead. Thirteen Israelis have also died in the clash.
Speaking to the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, in Jerusalem on Sunday, Olmert thanked them for their support for Israel's security and pledged cooperation to bring peace to the volatile land.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Israel to reopen the crossings to long-blockaded Gaza, saying a sustainable ceasefire would require "humanitarian access" to the territory, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Olmert to open Gaza's borders to aid as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Iran said the key to lasting calm is the opening of border crossings that Israel and Egypt have kept virtually sealed since Hamas militants staged a violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 from forces of the rival Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Statistics from the Palestinian side revealed that about 4,000 residential buildings were completely destroyed during the 22-day conflict.
GAZA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli army began on Sunday evening withdrawing part of its troops from the Gaza Strip, after both Israel and Hamas announced their ceasefire plans.
Footage of Israeli TV Channel 10 showed that Israeli tanks and soldiers were moving toward the border from inside the Palestinian enclave. An Israeli military spokesman later confirmed that the army has started pulling out part of its forces. Full story
JERUSALEM, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that his nation will pull troops out of the Gaza Strip once a stable truce is guaranteed.
"We intend to leave Gaza as soon as possible once we make sure that Israel's south is safe. We did not set out to take Gaza, and we have no desire to stay in it," he told visiting European leaders in the evening at his official residence. Full story
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- A number of European and Mideast leaders wrapped up an international summit hosted by Egypt on the situation of the Gaza Strip here on Sunday afternoon, pressing for parties concerned to consolidate a fragile ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave.
The international conference on Gaza, co-chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, was attended by a number of European leaders, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Full story
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that the ceasefire in Gaza Strip should become a durable and lasting truce.
Ban made his call at a press conference following an international summit in the Egyptian resort, which was attended by a number of European leaders, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.