Despite rebuffing truce talks in Cairo for the time being, Israel has withdrawn some of its ground forces from portions of Gaza on Saturday, indicating “plans to scale back its 26-day-old military operation in Gaza on its own terms,” Israeli officials and media reports said Saturday, according to the Associated Press. Israeli Prime Minister said in a televised speech Saturday night, however, Israel will continue its Gaza campaign “as long as necessary.”
Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz explained the decision to forgo cease-fire negotiations with Hamas on Israeli TV, saying previous failed attempts at negotiated cease-fires during the conflict "leads us to the conclusion that with this organization there is no point in speaking about an agreement or a cease-fire because we have tried it too many times." Instead, Israel is acting unilaterally withdrawing portions of its forces in Gaza. Here’s more from the AP:
An Israeli official told The Associated Press that troops will remain in Gaza to wrap up the demolition of Hamas tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border, but that this is a matter of "not much more time." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss internal government deliberations with reporters. Israeli media reported that 31 tunnels have already been demolished, and that the mission was close to being complete.
In other signals of a troop redeployment within Gaza, the military told residents of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya that it would be safe for them to return to their homes. The area, from which Gaza militants had fired rockets at Israel in the past, had come under heavy tank fire during Israel's ground operation, forcing thousands of residents to flee the area.
Israel ended a previous major military operation in Gaza more than five years ago with a unilateral pullback. From an Israeli perspective, the advantage is that it can leave on its own terms, rather than becoming entangled in negotiations with Hamas over new border arrangements for Gaza. Hamas has said it will only halt fire if Israel and Egypt lift their seven-year-old border blockade of the territory.
“Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others seen leaving another flashpoint area in southern Gaza,” Agence France Presse reports. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a text message to the AP that "a unilateral withdrawal by the occupation imposes no obligation on us and the resistance factions."