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Israelis leave Gaza town in ruins

August 06, 2004

BEIT HANUN, Aug 5: The Israeli army left a trail of devastation in Beit Hanun on Thursday after a five-week siege and occupation of the Gaza Strip's traditional bread basket which failed to put a halt to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Tanks and armoured vehicles began leaving the centre of town at first light and had completed their pullout four hours later, residents said. Troops had also withdrawn from around the nearby town of Jabaliya and its refugee camp.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that forces were being "redeployed" but gave no further details. "This is a redeployment, not a withdrawal. Our operations to prevent the firing of Qassam (makeshift rockets) will continue," he said.

Twenty Palestinians were killed during the course of the operation which originally saw tanks seal off the entrance to Beit Hanun. They then later moved into the centre of the town and expanded their operations to include Jabaliya, where three Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz had ordered troops into Beit Hanun, home to some 30,000 Palestinians, in the aftermath of a rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot which killed two people, including a three-year-old boy.

Residents said that much of Beit Hanun's infrastructure had been smashed in the course of the operation as troops demolished buildings, tore up roads and razed orange groves which had been used as cover for the firing of the Qassam rockets, named after the military wing of the Hamas. -AFP

Palestinian police

TEL AVIV: Israel's defence ministry agreed on Thursday to a Palestinian request to let some policemen carry guns on the streets, in order to help end unprecedented internal unrest, security sources said.

Most members of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank stopped carrying weapons more than two years ago after some were killed in major incursions that Israel said were to root out militants involved in bombings and shooting attacks. -Reuters