Israel has pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip and begun a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas.

In Gaza, where about half a million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, residents 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.

Palestinian men ride a donkey cart past destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip, as a 72-hour humanitarian truce went into effect
Palestinian men ride a donkey cart past destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip, as a 72-hour humanitarian truce went into effect(AFP)
A Palestinian family stands on rubble inside their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun
A Palestinian family stands on rubble inside their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun(Reuters)
A Palestinian woman reacts after retuning to her badly damaged house in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip
A Palestinian woman reacts after retuning to her badly damaged house in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip(Reuters)
Palestinians sit in the rubble of destroyed homes after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City
Palestinians sit in the rubble of destroyed homes after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City(Reuters)

An Israeli military spokesman said their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed. "Mission accomplished," the military tweeted.

 The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives — most of them civilians. The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

Israeli soldiers cheer from their armoured personnel carrier as Israel withdraws its troops from the Gaza Strip
Israeli soldiers cheer from their armoured personnel carrier as Israel withdraws its troops from the Gaza Strip(AFP)
Israeli soldiers return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave
Israeli soldiers return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave(AFP)
A young Palestinian man carrying his belongings walks past a badly damaged residential building after returning to Beit Lahiya
A young Palestinian man carrying his belongings walks past a badly damaged residential building after returning to Beit Lahiya(Reuters)
Displaced Palestinians leave a United Nations school in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip to return to their homes
Displaced Palestinians leave a United Nations school in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip to return to their homes(AFP)
Members of a family search for their belongings in the rubble of their bombed home in Beit Hanoun
Members of a family search for their belongings in the rubble of their bombed home in Beit Hanoun(Reuters)
Palestinian children make their way across the rubble of destroyed buildings as they return home to the northern Gaza Strip
Palestinian children make their way across the rubble of destroyed buildings as they return home to the northern Gaza Strip(AFP)
A Palestinian man leads a flock of sheep past destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip
A Palestinian man leads a flock of sheep past destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip(AFP)