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Israeli Troops Withdraw from Gaza Town - 2003-05-20


Israeli forces have withdrawn from a town in the northern Gaza Strip that they seized in a raid last week to try to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israeli soldiers pulled back to the edges of Beit Hanoun Tuesday, but are continuing operations in the surrounding areas of northern Gaza.

At least five residents were killed after the troops went into the town Thursday in a bid to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel.

Residents said the troops left behind a trail of destruction, including damage to sewage and water systems. Garden walls had also been knocked down by bulldozers and tanks.

The soldiers are now patrolling nearby areas in search of militants who have been firing rockets.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces are also beefing up security inside the country following a spate of suicide bombing attacks in recent days.

In the latest bombing, a 19-year-old Palestinian woman killed three Israelis and herself at a shopping mall in the northern Israeli town of Afula on Monday.

A devout Muslim, she came from the West Bank village of Tubas. Israeli troops detained her parents for questioning after taking them to a forensic institute to identify their daughter's body.

Relatives have emptied the family home, expecting it to be demolished in line with Israeli army practice to order such punishments following suicide bombings.

Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to the ruling Palestinian Fatah faction, have claimed joint responsibility for the operation.

Fatah is headed by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and Israel is holding him responsible for the latest violence.

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