Israel Pulls Most Troops from Gaza


JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel pulled most of its ground troops from Gaza after an eventful weekend brought news that a missing Israeli soldier was found dead and heated words between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

Israel says the drawdown comes because it has destroyed most of the tunnels it found beneath the border. It's not clear if that means the nearly monthlong conflict with Hamas is nearing an end.

Hamas is vowing to continue the battle, launching scores of rockets at Israeli civilians Sunday as heavy fighting still raged in parts of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel is facing severe condemnation from both the Obama administration and the United Nations after another UN school was struck during fighting.

Ten people were killed at the school, which has been converted to a shelter in the southern town of Rafah.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a "moral outrage and a criminal act" and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department condemned the strike in unusually strong language.

That comes after Netanyahu confronted the Obama administration Saturday, telling the White House to stop trying to force Israel into a truce with Palestinian jihadists.

Several heated phone calls came after the swift collapse of the latest ceasefire in Gaza.

Friday's ceasefire was left in tatters less than two hours after it took effect when Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli troops and were thought to have captured a third.

But Israel's military has now declared that third soldier dead. The military announced early Sunday morning that 23-year-old Hadar Goldin has now been determined to have been killed in battle Friday.

Hundreds of well-wishers from around Israel gathered outside the family's  home, praying and showing their support. There was an outpouring of grief among the crowd when the military's announcement was made public.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the latest Israeli-U.S. conversations say Netanyahu warned senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, "not to ever second guess me again" about Hamas.

The officials also said Netanyahu told the U.S. to start trusting him, pointing out that Hamas has repeatedly violated ceasefires, refusing to follow through on ceasefire talks.

Israel has now decided not to not participate in indirect ceasefire talks with Hamas, planning instead to scale back its 3-week-old military operation in Gaza on its own terms, Israeli officials said Saturday.

Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel is not sending a delegation to the latest proposed truce talks in Cairo.

Speaking on Israeli TV, he stated that Hamas has repeatedly violated previous ceasefire deals and that this "leads us to the conclusion that with this organization there is no point speaking" about a deal.

The Obama administration on Friday condemned Palestinian militants for "outrageous" violations of the internationally brokered Gaza ceasefire.

The strong U.S. reaction came after top Israeli officials accused the U.S. and the United Nations of being naive in assuming the radical Hamas would adhere to ceasefire terms.

With the truce obliterated, Obama repeated calls for Israel to do more to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties, and he still credited Secretary Kerry for pushing the short-lived ceasefire, saying the effort would continue.

Some Israelis and American pro-Israel groups argue that the U.S. is treating Hamas -- a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the State Department -- as a friend.

Netanyahu told U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that he now "expected" the U.S. and other countries to fully support Israel's offensive in Gaza, according to sources familiar with the call.

They said Netanyahu made similar points to Kerry, who himself denounced the attack as "outrageous," saying it was an affront to assurances to respect the ceasefire given to the United States and United Nations.

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