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Final Israeli troops leave Gaza as diplomats seek lasting truce

THE last Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip before dawn yesterday, the military said, as Israel dispatched its foreign minister to Europe in a bid to rally international support to end arms smuggling into the Hamas-ruled territory.

The timing of the troop pullout reflected Israel's hopes to defuse the crisis in still-volatile Gaza before US President Barack Obama settled into the White House. The military said troops remain massed on the Israeli side of the border, poised for action if militants violate a fragile, three-day-old truce.

The troops' exit marked the end of an Israeli offensive that ravaged Gaza and left some 1,300 Palestinians dead, at least half of them civilians, according to Gaza health officials and a Palestinian human rights group. Thirteen Israelis also died.

Israel launched the war to halt years of militant rocket fire on southern Israel and to stop arms smuggling. The death toll in Gaza provoked international outrage.

The Israeli military announced yesterday that it would investigate claims by the United Nations and human rights groups that it improperly used white phosphorus - an ingredient in weapons that inflicts horrific burns.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left the region early yesterday after touring Gaza and southern Israel. Ban called for an investigation into the Israeli shelling of UN compounds in Gaza during the fighting, which he termed "outrageous." He also called rocket attacks against Israel "appalling and unacceptable."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was headed to Brussels yesterday, hoping to clinch a deal committing the European Union to contribute forces, ships and technology to anti-smuggling operations.

An EU commitment would build on a deal the US signed with Israel last week promising expanded intelligence cooperation between the two countries and other US allies in the Middle East and Europe.

EU officials said it was too early for that, adding that providing humanitarian relief and efforts to secure a lasting cease-fire were their priorities.

"The situation is fragile," Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security chief, said ahead of the meeting.

The US has promised to supply detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations in the region.

Some EU nations, notably Germany, have promised to help Israel stop the arms smuggling.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said a total of 1,284 Palestinians were killed and 4,336 wounded in the 23-day war. It said 894 of the dead were civilians, including 280 children or minors aged 17 and under.


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