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Last Updated: Friday, 14 July 2006, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Israel pulls out of central Gaza
Palestinians look at the destruction of a main link road near Khan Younis in central Gaza following the withdrawal of Israeli tanks
Israeli tanks destroyed a main road in Gaza, witnesses say
Israeli troops have withdrawn from central Gaza after the army said it had "completed" a two-day mission there.

Forces remain in other parts of the Gaza Strip, and are continuing a separate offensive against Lebanon.

There was fresh violence overnight as the troops withdrew from central Gaza. Sixteen Palestinians, mainly militants, died there in the two-day operation.

On Thursday, the United States vetoed a UN resolution calling on Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza.

Washington's UN ambassador, John Bolton, said the resolution laid disproportionate blame on Israel for the current crisis.

"Passage would have undermined the credibility of the Security Council, which itself must be seen by both sides as an honest broker in the Middle East conflict," he said.

Ten Security Council members voted in favour of Qatar's motion, while four abstained.

Two-pronged effort

The Israeli forces moved back over the border from central Gaza after holding a swathe of territory around the town of Khan Younis for two days.

The incursion was part of a two-pronged effort which Israel says is aimed at rescuing captured Israeli soldier Cpl Gilad Shalit, and reducing the number of rocket attacks by militants against Israeli towns.

The damaged foreign ministry building in Gaza City
Israel says its operations will continue in other parts of Gaza

The troops had "currently completed their activities in the area", the army statement said.

Before the withdrawal, a Palestinian was killed when Israeli troops shelled a vehicle that the army said was approaching its forces. Palestinian security sources said the vehicle had been reversing away when it was fired on.

Elsewhere, Israeli warplanes fired on a bridge and a Hamas office in Gaza, while witnesses said Israeli bulldozers destroyed a large part of the main central road.

"It's like an earthquake hit the road," Palestinian resident Khamis Othman told the Associated Press.

Despite withdrawing from central Gaza, the Israeli military said operations would continue elsewhere in Gaza.

Israel has rejected calls for a ceasefire, and says it will not enter into negotiations for Cpl Shalit's release - despite reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had held secret meetings with Israel's domestic spy chief, Yuval Diskin, in Jordan to broker an end to the crisis.

Militants holding the Israeli soldier say their action is in retaliation for Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Dozens of Palestinians, including civilians, have died since Israel launched its assault on Gaza.

The developments in Gaza come against a backdrop of an escalating crisis in Lebanon, where Israel has retaliated after the capture of two soldiers by the Hezbollah militia.




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