BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops moved out of the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday after a four-day operation that left eight Palestinians dead, more than 100 wounded and tens of thousands without electricity or running water. Hours later, Palestinians lobbed mortar shells at an Israeli settlement in the strip.
At daybreak, tanks drove away from the towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun and the outskirts of the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp, from where Palestinian militants frequently fire rockets at Jewish settlements and Israeli border towns. The tanks left two dozen demolished homes behind them.
It was unclear why the army withdrew. Troops frequently have raided northern Gaza communities to stop the rocket fire, largely to no avail. Even during the raid, some rocket and mortar fire at Israeli towns continued.
After the pullout, mortar fire hit a house in the Israeli settlement of Netzarim and damaged several others with flying debris. No one was hurt.
Heavy tank traffic cut up the main road in northern Gaza, as well as several side roads linking major neighborhoods, making them impassable in some sections. Some water pipes, electricity poles and telephone lines in the area also were destroyed, leaving about 130,000 residents without basic services, said Beit Lahiya’s mayor, Adel Hammoudeh.
Twenty-two homes, 10 shops and five factories were destroyed in the two towns and the refugee camp, municipal officials said. Several public buildings – including the Beit Lahiya police station, the fire department and a rehabilitation center for the handicapped – also were razed, the mayor said.
In all, eight Palestinians were killed and 110 others were wounded during the four-day raid, hospital officials said. The dead included four gunmen and four civilians, one of them a 9-year-old boy.
Thirty-five of the wounded were 16 and younger, most of them with bullet wounds, said Dr. Manar al-Farra, director of the Al Awda Hospital in Beit Lahiya.
The Israeli military said troops demolished three buildings used by Palestinian militants to manufacture weapons and several other buildings from where anti-tank missiles were fired. The military also said there were heavy exchanges of gunfire between troops and militants.
The Israeli military has intensified raids against militants in Gaza in the run-up to a planned withdrawal in 2005. In Israel, opposition to the withdrawal is becoming more vociferous, with settler leaders warning it could lead to civil war.
However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is undeterred, saying he will go ahead with his plan to remove soldiers and settlers from Gaza and four small West Bank settlements.