PALESTINIANS TAKE STOCK

GAZA - Israeli forces were yesterday pulling out of the Gaza Strip after a tentative truce with Hamas that allowed thousands of Palestinians to take stock of the devastating three-week war.

GAZA - Israeli forces were yesterday pulling out of the Gaza Strip after a tentative truce with Hamas that allowed thousands of Palestinians to take stock of the devastating three-week war.

Bulldozers cleared rubble from streets in the Hamas-ruled territory and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said more than 22000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, estimating a total repair bill in the enclave of at least $1,9billion (about R19 billion).

Military officials said troops and tanks that had poured into the Gaza Strip on January 3 as part of an offensive to counter Palestinian rocket attacks were gradually leaving, though they remained ready to tackle any flare-ups.

Israel and Hamas separately declared ceasefires on Sunday, to the relief of Western powers that, while publicly sympathetic to the Jewish state's security concerns, were alarmed by the mounting humanitarian toll in the impoverished territory. The crisis clouded the last days of the Bush administration. - Reuters

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