Israel said it completed a troop pullout from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Wednesday, starting its relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama by quitting Palestinian land devastated by its 22-day offensive. U.N. said it would investigate allegations that Israel may have used ammunition containing depleted uranium during the offensive. (UPDATED)
"The last soldier left the Gaza Strip this morning," an army spokesman told AFP. "However the army remains deployed all around the Gaza Strip to meet any eventuality."
Despite the withdrawal, the Israeli navy fired sporadic salvoes into the northern Gaza Strip during the morning, Palestinian witnesses said.
The Israel Defense Forces later issued a statement saying all troops had returned to Israeli territory ending Operation Cast Lead.
"The forces are now redeployed outside the Gaza Strip," it said.
The pullout began Sunday after Israel declared a ceasefire and Palestinian militants matched it. Hamas gave Israel a week to remove all troops and open crossing points into Gaza or face renewed hostilities.
Israel had withdrawn most of its forces before U.S. President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Tuesday, in a move analysts saw as an attempt not to cloud the start of a new era in a key alliance.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, endorsed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire by Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamists.
Israeli attacks in a 22-day Gaza offensive killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 410 children and about 100 women, Gaza medical officials said. Another 5,300 people were wounded; 1,855 of them children and 795 women.
The Palestinian bureau of statistics reported 4,100 homes were totally destroyed and 17,000 others were damaged in the offensive.
Israel says hundreds of militants died. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians, hit by cross-border rocket fire, were killed in the conflict.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon became Tuesday the first world leader to visit the enclave since Israel halted the deadliest offensive it has ever launched on the Palestinian territory, which has been ruled by Hamas since June 2007.
He accused Israel of using "excessive force" in the conflict, but he also condemned the Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel which sparked the invasion.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Wednesday it would investigate allegations by Arab countries that Israel may have used ammunition containing depleted uranium during its military offensive in Gaza.
The countries made the allegations in a letter addressed to Director General Mohammed El-Baradei and delivered by the Saudi Arabian ambassador on Monday.
They asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate the matter. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming confirmed the receipt of the letter.
"We are circulating the letter to member states and will investigate the matter to the extent of our ability," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming was quoted by AFP as saying.
The exact course of action would be decided after consultation with member states.
The Israeli ambassador to the IAEA, Israel Michaeli, declined to comment.
Depleted uranium is a waste product of uranium enrichment and has a number of civilian and military applications, including its use in weapons to penetrate tanks and armor plating.
Investigations have been carried out into its use in ammunition in conflicts such as the 1991 Gulf War and 1994-95 NATO air strikes in the Balkans.
The IAEA published a report on the issue in 2002. At the time, IAEA Deputy Director General Werner Burkart said: "To be honest, there are very few health concerns for depleted uranium from a radiological point of view, because it is only very slightly radioactive.
"Even the handling of enriched uranium in industry does not need special protection such as shielding. There are more dangerous radiotoxic elements associated with uranium in nature."
Depleted uranium could pose a health risk, however, in the form of dust found at impact sites.
Nevertheless, in the case of the Balkans conflict, "it is difficult to imagine that peacekeepers had exposure to depleted uranium high enough to significantly change their normal level of radiation exposure from natural and civilian sources," Burkart said at the time.