March 3 (Bloomberg) -- Israel began winding down its offensive in the Gaza Strip that has left more than 100 Palestinians dead since last week, after the United Nations demanded an end to the violence.
Israeli forces were withdrawing from the seaside enclave ruled by the Islamic Hamas movement, an army spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Israel began the ground, air and sea operation Feb. 29 after Hamas stepped up cross-border rocket attacks on southern towns, firing Soviet-made Grad missiles that brought Ashkelon, a city of 110,000 people that is 17 kilometers (11 miles) north of Gaza, within range. Militants previously limited most attacks to unguided, shorter range Qassam rockets made in Gaza.
The UN Security Council yesterday said the fighting "must not be allowed to deter the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.'' U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to push forward the peace talks.
Abbas yesterday said he was suspending negotiations due to the violence, chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said.
Fifteen Palestinians were killed yesterday, taking the death toll since Feb. 27 to 110, said Mo'aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency services at the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Three Israelis, including two soldiers and a civilian, have been killed.
Israeli warplanes struck three weapons manufacturers, a Hamas command center and an armed gang overnight, an army spokesman said. Three rockets were fired at Israel since midnight, he added.
The use of Grad missiles against Israel has increased calls for the army to invade Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since it ousted forces loyal to Abbas in June, ending a partnership government with his Fatah party.
Oxfam International called on the "international community to take immediate action to stop the escalation of violence'' and press for a truce to ensure civilians are protected.
"Sustaining and increasing human suffering is unlikely to lead to peace,'' Oxfam's Adam Leach said in an e-mailed statement today.
Olmert, who defines the conflict with Hamas in Gaza as a "war,'' yesterday ordered his ministers to stop making public comments about the fighting.