JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel signaled Saturday it plans to scale back its military operation in the Gaza war and will not participate for now in any cease-fire negotiations in Cairo with Hamas. The Islamic militant group suggested it won't hold its fire in the case of a unilateral Israeli pullout, raising the prospect of renewed hostilities in the future.<br />
Israel continued to pound Gaza with airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 72 Palestinians, many in the southern border town of Rafah where Israeli troops searched for a soldier feared captured by militants.<br />
In a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that the Israeli military will reassess its Gaza operation once troops complete the demolition of Hamas tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Once the tunnels are demolished, "the military will prepare for continuing action in according to our security needs," he said, stressing all options remain on the table.<br />
"We promised to return the quiet to Israel and that is what we will do. We will continue to act until that goal is reached, however long it will take and with as much force needed," Netanyahu said. "Hamas needs to understand that it will pay an intolerable price as far as it is concerned for continuing to fire."<br />
Since the Gaza war began July 8, at least 1,712 Palestinians - most of them civilians - have been killed and more than 9,000 have been wounded, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians, its highest death toll since its 2006 with Lebanon's Hezbollah. Hundreds of soldiers have been wounded.<br />
Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and some 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. In Israel, much of the country has been exposed to Hamas rocket fire.<br />
Earlier Saturday, Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel won't send a delegation to proposed truce talks in Cairo for now. Speaking to Israel's Channel 10 television station, he alleged that Hamas repeatedly violated previous cease-fire deals.<br />
"That 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," Steinitz said.<br />
Already, there were signs of troop redeployments in Gaza.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
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