Israel plans to withdraw all of its troops from the Gaza Strip before U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20, according to Israeli media outlets.
Israel started pulling troops out of Gaza on Sunday, more than three weeks after the start of its assault on the Palestinian enclave of 1.5 million. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised European leaders that Israel will finish the process “as soon as possible.”
According to Israeli media, an unnamed government official said that “Israel did not want to put Obama in a difficult situation once taking office and hopes to continue cooperation with the U.S. in the global fight against Islamic terrorism and weapons smuggling in the Gaza Strip.”
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Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire at 2 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) on Sunday, saying it had achieved all its objectives. Several hours after Israel’s announcement, Hamas, which controls Gaza, also declared an immediate ceasefire, adding that the militants had given Israel a week to withdraw its troops.
Obama caused anger among the Palestinians in June of last year when he said in a speech to a major U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group that Jerusalem must remain the “undivided” capital of Israel. The Palestinians want the east of the city as the capital of their future state. Israel annexed East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
However, the then-presidential candidate later detracted the statement, and said that the future of the city should be resolved through peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He blamed “poor phrasing” for the comment.
Israel launched its attack on Gaza on December 27, targeting Hamas infrastructure in a bid to put an end to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants on Israeli border towns. The military operation left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, the majority of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis, 10 of them military personnel, lost their lives in the fighting.