Israel Forces Withdraw From 2 Gaza Neighborhoods
Military Officials Say Offensive Will Continue
By Kevin Frayer
RAFAH, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops pulled back from two neighborhoods in this sprawling Palestinian refugee camp Friday, leaving behind a bleak landscape of demolished and damaged homes, torn-up roads and flattened cars.
Israel said its four-day military offensive in search of arms-smuggling tunnels and militants will continue. The army said no tunnels have been found so far and only one Palestinian was arrested after soldiers questioned hundreds. Security officials believed most of the militants fled before the invasion.
At least 43 homes have been demolished and dozens more damaged in the camp since the offensive began Tuesday, municipal officials said. Forty Palestinians have been killed, including gunmen and eight demonstrators hit by a tank shell.
The army said it deliberately demolished seven homes, including one belonging to an Islamic Jihad militant. Other damage was caused by heavy military vehicles and Palestinian militant roadside bombs, the army said.
In the Brazil neighborhood, 25 houses were razed and streets were torn up, local officials said. In many cases, the facades of houses caved in or were shorn off after wide armored vehicles moved through the narrow alleys.
Residents picked through the rubble, retrieving mattresses, photo albums, shoes and clothing. A boy, oblivious to his surroundings, sat on the ground and scooped up sand with a broken toy bulldozer.
Israeli troops left behind leaflets in Arabic urging residents not to give shelter to armed men "who are using your homes and are hiding inside like rats."
Yacoub Othman, 55, who lives in the Brazil neighborhood, said he was hit by random fire in the leg as he walked downstairs in his home Wednesday.
"I tried to sterilize the wound with the little alcohol we had at home, but I couldn't even open the window and call on my neighbor to call for an ambulance because the snipers were right in front of us and the bulldozer was working in the street in front of us," said Othman. Doctors said Othman's wound became infected.
Reporters were still unable Friday to get into the hardest-hit neighborhood, Tel Sultan, which lost water and electricity for part of the Israeli offensive.
U.N. officials said several water trucks reached the area Friday, negotiating torn-up roads to bring fresh supplies to some of the neighborhood's 25,000 residents.
"It's quite wild -- the trucks are being mobbed by the locals, who have been without supplies for such a long time," U.N. spokesman Johan Eriksson said.
Local officials said 10 homes were demolished in Tel Sultan and more damaged. Resident Fathi Abdel-Al, speaking by telephone, said he saw smoldering and charred cars, toppled electricity poles and sewage running in the streets.
Abdel Rahim Abu Jazer, 42, a teacher, searched for food and water for his children. "I hardly recognized my own street," he said. "I don't think an earthquake could do what the Israeli army did to this area."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company