Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Israel pulls back troops after destroying homes


Israeli troops pulled out of a refugee camp along the Gaza-Egypt border early yesterday, completing a four-day operation in which they demolished at least 15 homes and killed four militants and four bystanders, witnesses said.

The army redeployed along the Gaza-Egypt border, but left troops in the Salem area of Rafah, witnesses said. In the Brazil camp in the Rafah area, scene of yesterday's pullout, troops left in their wake roads destroyed by tanks and ripped up water pipes. Electric and telephone cables were torn apart in the operation, the witnesses said.

Israel launched its broadest military operation in six months in the Rafah area of Gaza following an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in a Haifa restaurant on Oct. 4 that killed 23 people.

Israel claims Palestinians use tunnels -- sometimes in homes -- to smuggle arms from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. The military has said it has intelligence warnings that the Palestinians might be trying to smuggle more advanced weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles, through the tunnels. The Rafah operation, the army said, is to uncover and destroy the tunnels.

Rafah and its refugee camps have been a flashpoint of violence since fighting erupted more than three years ago, with gunmen attacking army posts along the border and clashing with soldiers patrolling the area and searching for tunnels.

About 114 homes were destroyed at the start of the Rafah military operation, leaving some 1,240 Palestinians homeless, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency.

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