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Israel withdraws from Gaza as anti-rocket offensive ends

  • Story Highlights
  • Military ending offensive, withdrawing most troops from Gaza, says Israeli officials
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks
  • Rockets continue flying across the Israel-Gaza border Monday
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Most Israeli tanks and troops pulled out of northern Gaza early Monday, and an Israel Defense Forces spokesman confirmed that the military was ending its five-day offensive operation.

A gunman marches in a funeral Sunday in Gaza for a fellow Palestinian killed by an Israeli airstrike.

The attacks targeted Palestinian militants who launched dozens of rockets into southern Israel.

The operations, which prompted an emergency U.N. Security Council session Saturday night, resulted in the deaths of at least 110 Palestinians since Wednesday, according to Palestinian medical sources. The Israel Defense Forces said two Israeli soldiers were killed.

Rockets continued flying across the Israel-Gaza border Monday, with three sophisticated Katyushas hitting the city of Ashkelon, according to an Israeli ambulance service spokesman. One rocket hit a house, he said. Five homemade Qassam rockets landed around the city Sderot, an Israeli military spokesman said. No injuries were immediately reported.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired at least 40 rockets toward Israel on Sunday; two civilians sustained minor injuries in the attacks, according to the Israeli military.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reported seeing five rockets launched from the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza on Sunday despite a heavy presence of Israeli ground troops and air cover. Video Watch how Israel pulled back »

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks with Israel until the Jewish state halted its military operation in Gaza. It was not immediately clear if Monday's announcement would prompt Abbas to resume talks.

The Israeli military carried out three airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday. One of the strikes targeted the Gaza City home of a slain militant responsible for manufacturing rockets, according to Palestinian security sources. Video Watch peace prospects go up in smoke at Gaza refugee camp »

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday left open the possibility of a broader Israeli ground operation. "It's clearly something real and tangible that could await us down the stream," he said.

Ten Palestinians -- including a police officer and a girl -- died Sunday from Israeli ground and air operations in northern Gaza, according to Palestinian security and medical sources in Gaza.

On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Israeli military tried to avoid civilians in its attacks, but called civilian deaths "the price of war."

"When we are identifying people on the way to launch a rocket against our own civilians, we have to attack them," he said. "We try to see what extent the area is empty from innocent people, but sometimes it doesn't work."

Hundreds of Palestinians took to streets in the West Bank and northern Gaza to protest the Israeli military operations. A 14-year-old Palestinian was killed Sunday in a clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Hebron, Palestinian medical sources said.

The violence came just days ahead of a scheduled visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She is set to arrive in the Mideast on Tuesday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to push negotiations for a peace accord.

The White House on Sunday called for an end to the fighting, and has expressed regret for the loss of life on both sides, spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. But he made it clear that "there is a clear distinction between terrorist rocket attacks that target civilians and action in self-defense."

Nevertheless, Johndroe reiterated the U.S. position on Sunday, saying, "The violence needs to stop, and the talks need to resume."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed to his cabinet on Sunday that "Israel has no intention of halting counter-terrorism actions, even for a second."

"If somebody thinks that, by extending the rockets' range, he will succeed in deterring us from our activity, he is gravely mistaken," Olmert said.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called on Israel to halt its "military escalation in Gaza" if it wants peace talks to resume.

"If the Israeli government thinks through escalation and military solution they will acquire peace and security, they're wrong," Erakat told CNN.

While Palestinian leaders "do not condone firing of missiles on Israeli civilians under [any] circumstances," Erakat said, both sides must "begin the process of de-escalation ... because things are really getting out of hand."

Palestinian leaders decided Sunday to suspend peace talks with the Israelis "for the time being" in an effort to relay the message to the Israelis that "if you want to talk, let us talk, [but] not through guns and bullets and missiles," Erakat said.


Palestinian and Israeli delegations had only recently begun discussions regarding the core issues in their conflict: Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel; and Jerusalem as the shared capital of a future Palestinian state, among other topics.

The talks were a result of a major push by U.S. President George W. Bush, who hopes to help broker a Mideast peace agreement before he leaves office next January. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Shira Medding and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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