Israeli tanks exit Gaza after 2-day incursion

Assault leaves 30 Palestinians dead, property damaged


GAZA CITY -- Israeli tanks pulled out of the Gaza Strip early yesterday morning, ending a two-day incursion that killed 30 Palestinians and left a trail of damaged homes, crushed cars and uprooted trees.

On the eastern edges of Gaza City's Shaaf district, deep trenches of churned earth surrounded by newly pockmarked buildings clearly marked the path taken by an estimated 50 Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers.

"This used to be all olive and fruit trees," said Shaaf resident Yusuf Hamad, pointing to a wide patch of now-barren earth.

The incursion targeted orchards used by militants for launching rockets over the border, the Israeli army said.

Within hours of the tanks' withdrawal, several more Palestinian rockets launched by the military wing of Islamic Jihad landed near the southern Israeli town of Sderot and wounded two children, an Israeli army spokesman said.

Three Palestinians were killed yesterday, including a 13-year-old boy, bringing the total two-day toll to 30 dead and at least 75 wounded, medical sources said.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, whose Hamas movement swept to power in January elections, delivered a Friday sermon condemning what he called Israel's "vindictive tendencies." He said the goal of both Israel and the U.S. was to create "a new Middle East where Israel has dominion."

After prayers, Haniyeh addressed a wildly cheering crowd outside the mosque amid the steady thump of Israeli artillery strikes. He said the Israeli attacks only delayed any possible negotiations on the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militant groups June 25.

"We're eager to solve the issue of the soldier, but Israel has to withdraw first and end its aggression," Haniyeh said.

In Shaaf, many residents returned to their homes after two days to find houses and vehicles damaged, and hundreds of trees uprooted and pushed into piles.

With dozens of armed militiamen laying in wait and preparing booby traps nearby, the tanks carved crude paths straight through houses, walls and yards.

"There were a lot of ambushes waiting for them, so they had to take a different way," said Allam Shuraka, whose home was taken over by Israeli troops. The soldiers used the backyard as a staging area for tanks and took over the house, punching football-sized holes in the walls for snipers.

"This was all trees, and over here was a tent that we used to sit under at night," Shuraka said.

Shuraka and his family were asleep about 2 a.m. on the night of the incursion when an explosion blew open the gate on the wall surrounding the property. An armored bulldozer moved in to clear a way for the tanks, and a voice boomed over a loudspeaker telling them to evacuate.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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