Gaza Strip – Israeli troops moved out of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Gaza on Saturday night, the army said, ending a two-day raid that killed 11 Palestinians and wounded dozens, the largest Israeli military operation since Yasser Arafat’s death last month.
The raid in Khan Younis was launched Friday in response to Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks over the past week. Israel had said it would refrain from major offensives in the run-up to the Jan. 9 Palestinian elections, but would take action if attacked.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party and the opposition Labor Party worked to finalize their pact to form a coalition government amid reports the new Cabinet – which Sharon seeks to bolster his government as he carries out a planned Gaza withdrawal – could be sworn in as early as Thursday.
Residents of Khan Younis said they saw 10 Israeli tanks pulling out of the area Saturday evening. Palestinian security confirmed the troops had left.
In the Khan Younis fighting Saturday, two militants were killed by Israeli tank fire in separate incidents, Palestinian hospital officials said. The body of a third Palestinian shot in the head was recovered Saturday morning, medical officials said. It was unclear whether he was a militant. A total of 11 Palestinians, including at least seven militants, were killed and 43 others wounded, since Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the camp Friday. A Palestinian ambulance driver and five children under the age of 16 were among the wounded. One Israeli soldier also was wounded.
Hundreds of residents who had evacuated their homes began returning to the camp even though the area was engulfed in complete darkness because the electric grid had been damaged in the operation. Some residents found their homes demolished or damaged but officials said it was not immediately clear how many.
The raid was in response to more than 50 mortar and rocket attacks launched by Palestinians over the past week which killed a Thai worker in a Jewish settlement and injured 17 other people, including 11 soldiers, the army said. The army said some houses used by militants to launch mortars or rockets were targeted in the operation. On Saturday, Palestinian militants in northern Gaza launched three homemade rockets, two of which landed in Israel but caused no injuries or damage, the army said.
Under the Likud-Labor coalition plan, Labor leader Shimon Peres would become vice premier, a post he would share with Likud Cabinet minister Ehud Olmert.