Israeli Troops Withdraw from Gaza

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's military has pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip after a three-day campaign to stop terrorist rocket attacks by Hamas. Although the Israeli raids took a heavy toll, Hamas was claiming victory in the end.

Even after the army's exit from Gaza today, Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israeli towns, including the largest southern city of Ashkelon. More than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis died in the fighting. Israel's military chief of staff says 90 of the Gaza dead were terrorists.

The Israeli action, called "Operation Warm Winter," sparked protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended peace talks with Israel

But many Israelis were hoping that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would allow the army to crush the terrorist hotbeds.

That isn't likely to happen now because of pressure from Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returns to Israel Tuesday, to push Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward some kind of an agreement. So far, Rice has said little about the thousands of rocket attacks on southern Israel, except that they must end.

"Israel remains committed to reach a historic agreement with the Palestinians by the end of the year," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Olmert. "Now cutting off the talks, a decision we regret, is not going to solve anything. We will solve problems talking."

In the meantime, Hamas may need a cease-fire to recover from Israel's assault and tighten its hold on Gaza. If Israel shows restraint, the fight will be postponed for weeks or months. If not, the real fireworks could come this spring.

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