Israel plans total withdrawal before inauguration


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel plans to withdraw all of its troops from the Gaza Strip before before the U.S. presidential inauguration, according to reports.

Israeli officials were quoted anonymously in the Israeli press as saying the troop withdrawal would likely be completed by Tuesday, when Barack Obama takes the oath of office in Washington.

Troops began withdrawing Sunday, the day after Israel called a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, which was followed by a Hamas cease-fire declaration. Troops continued to leave the costal strip on Monday, according to reports.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a gathering of European leaders Sunday in Jerusalem that Israel did not want to stay in Gaza.

"The State of Israel has no intention of staying in the Gaza Strip," he said. "We are interested in withdrawing from the Gaza Strip as quickly as possible the moment we are assured that the cease-fire is being respected and is stable, and that there is no threat to the security of southern Israel. Our intention is not to conquer or control Gaza. We do not wish to remain in Gaza. We intend to withdraw as soon as possible."

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