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Gaza: Ceasefire holds up

A 72-hour ceasefire appears to be holding after Israel withdrew its ground forces from Gaza.

A Palestinian carries mattresses he found in the rubble of destroyed buildings on 27 July, 2014 in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City as families returned to find their homes ground into rubble by relentless Israeli tank fire and air strikes. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/GAZA - A three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding as Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war.

Some of the 440,000 Palestinians displaced by the fighting were able to make the trek from United Nations run shelters back home to assess the damage.

The truce follows six previous ceasefire attempts which have all been marked by allegations from both sides of continued attacks.

Minutes before the truce began, Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel's "massacres".

Israel's anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem, police said.

Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. There were no casualties.

Israeli armour and infantry left Gaza ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels dug by Hamas had been completed.

"Mission accomplished," the military tweeted.

Troops and tanks will be "redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions", spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, said Israel's offensive in the densely populated, coastal enclave was a "100 percent failure".

Israel sent officials to join talks in Cairo to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad also dispatched representatives from Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his decision-making security cabinet to discuss the aftermath of the fighting, officials said.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents, carrying mattresses and with children in tow, left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

Sitting on a pile of debris on the edge of the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Zuhair Hjaila, a 33-year-old father of four, said he had lost his house and his supermarket.

"This is complete destruction," he said.

"I never thought I would come back to find an earthquake zone."

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