Thick with the smell of burnt gunpowder, Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip was reduced to ruins after a bloody six-day Israeli assault on the coastal town.
Early on Wednesday, Israeli artillery shells killed 19 Palestinian civilians there, including 13 members of one family.
The shelling came 24 hours after Israel announced the end of "Operation Autumn Clouds" in the town, which had already claimed the lives of more than 50 Palestinian militants and civilians.
"It was like a tsunami hitting Beit Hanoun," 41-year-old police officer Ahmed Sehwail told Xinhua, adding: "Devastation everywhere, Beit Hanoun was turned from paradise into broken remains."
Sehwail said the town was famous for its citrus groves but after six years of intifada (uprising), little of that has survived.
Abu Samir al-Basuni, a 54-year-old Beit Hanoun resident, said that more than 50 houses were razed and they (the Israelis) also ruined parts of a cemetery.
Beit Hanoun, with a population of 40,000, started out as a small agricultural village. It is the nearest town to the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
"It is true Israel does not want security, peace and stability," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at a news conference in Gaza City following the Israeli attack, adding that "it seems that (Israel) wishes the situation to deteriorate."
Abbas visited Beit Hanoun on Wednesday with his Prime Minister Ismail Haneya, who has suspended talks over forming a new coalition government for the time being until the end of a three-day official mourning period.
Abbas called for boosting efforts towards forming a unified government "to respond to Israel which doesn't like to see the Palestinians united."
"Whenever we get close to internal deals, we find more massacres," Abbas concluded.
Following the incident, the Israeli government on Wednesday expressed regret over the deaths of the Palestinians in the Israeli artillery strike.
Israel said the operation was aimed at preventing Palestinian militants from firing homemade rockets into southern Israel but it seemed that the goal was not achieved as dozens of rockets were launched at Israeli towns and communities.
Ahmed al-Kafarna, a student, said that rocket attacks would continue even if Beit Hanoun is decimated by Israel. "We launch rockets to respond to Israeli crimes. It is a matter of action and reaction and they (the Israelis) began with this circle."
Large tents were set up and hundreds of mourners gathered to grieve but they did not show any regret over rocket attacks against Israel.
Many people expressed support to rocket attacks, shouting: "We support Hamas!"
In addition, senior Hamas official Nizar Rayyan in the Gaza Strip called for an immediate renewal of suicide bomb attacks in Israel in revenge.
Also on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan voiced his shock and dismay at Israel's attacks.
He reminded both sides of their obligations under international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Annan reiterated his call to the Israeli government to cease its military operations in Gaza without delay and called on the Palestinian side to also halt attacks against Israeli targets.
He further took note of the reported announcement by the Israeli Government of a full investigation into this latest incident and looked forward to its early results.
Meanwhile, at the request of Palestinian authorities, the UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the mounting bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
(Xinhua News Agency November 9, 2006)