(USA Today) -- Israel's military said Tuesday it has withdrawn all of its troops from Gaza, effectively wrapping up its ground operation, although the situation is still volatile and the four-week-old conflict has not ended.
The announcement from Israel that its troops would exit the coastal enclave came ahead of the start of a 72-hour cease-fire — now in effect — by Hamas and Israel. Previous cease-fires have been short-lived and ended with both sides blaming each other of undermining peace efforts.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal is complete and that Israel will now "maintain defensive lines outside Gaza."
He said the withdrawal follows Israel's destruction of 32 cross-border tunnels that permit militants to carry out attacks against Israel. Hamas has not commented on the withdrawal.
Just minutes ahead of the start of the truce, shelling still echoed across Gaza and Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel.
On the diplomatic front, Egypt is preparing to host indirect talks with Hamas and Israel in an effort to achieve a long-term truce.
Nearly 1,900 Palestinians — most of them civilians — have been killed since the fighting broke out on July 8, according to Gaza's health ministry. Israel's military says the conflict has left 67 Israelis dead, all but three of them soldiers.
Contributing: Associated Press