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Israel Quits Gaza Town, Killing 8 Palestinians
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The Israeli military killed seven Palestinian militants and a civilian Tuesday after pulling out of a battered town where it had mounted its biggest operation in the Gaza Strip in a year.

"The Israelis leave one area and enter another," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said. "We have spoken to the American administration and to the Europeans that such a situation cannot help restore security and stability."

Leaving behind a string of wrecked houses, toppled utility polls and broken water pipes after six days of fighting, Israeli armor moved out of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, a staging ground for rocket attacks on southern Israel.

"This is the worst raid we have ever witnessed," said Khalil Yazji, a 45-year-old resident and police officer. "The Israeli army has brought destruction into every single street and nearly into every single house. This is the tsunami of Beit Hanoun."

Thousands of Palestinians, including gunmen firing in the air, marched in funeral processions in the town for 23 people killed in the past week. Some were militants, their bodies shrouded in factional flags.

In all, Israeli troops killed 52 people, more than half of them militants, during the raids that centered on Beit Hanoun, Palestinian medical officials said. One soldier has been killed.

In new violence, Israeli forces killed seven gunmen and a woman in raids in three other areas in northern Gaza, militant groups and hospital officials said. An Israeli army spokeswoman said eight or nine gunmen had been hit by Israeli fire.

Israeli troops and settlers quit the Gaza Strip 14 months ago, but the army in June launched a continuing offensive against militants after gunmen from the territory crossed into Israel and seized a soldier, who is still being held.

Unity gov't talks

Palestinian leaders pressed on with efforts to form a unity government of professional experts which they hope can lead to a resumption of direct foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas planned to meet Abbas later in the day, a source in Haniyeh's office said. The two men, who have held on-again, off-again talks on unity, failed on Monday to resolve differences over who should replace Haniyeh as prime minister.
Hamas says it will never recognize Israel or join a government that does, making it unclear how a unity administration could meet international demands to soften its line.

Announcing an end to "Operation Autumn Clouds," the Israeli army said it found large amounts of weaponry, including rocket launchers and anti-tank missile launchers, in Beit Hanoun.

Beit Hanoun's mayor, a Hamas member, said some 40 homes were destroyed and 400 damaged during the fighting.

(China Daily November 8, 2006)


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