GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops pulled out of a shantytown along the Gaza-Egypt border early Sunday, completing a four-day operation in which they demolished at least 15 homes and killed four militants and four bystanders, witnesses said.
Troops left behind damaged roads, ripped-up water pipes, and severed electric and telephone cables as they left the Brazil neighborhood in Rafah (search), witnesses said. The army left some troops in the nearby Salem area.
Israel launched its broadest military operation in six months in the Rafah area of Gaza on Oct. 10 following a homicide bombing by the Islamic Jihad militant group in a Haifa (search) restaurant. The Oct. 4 bombing killed 23 people.
The raids were aimed at finding tunnels used to smuggle arms from Egypt into the Gaza Strip (search). The military has Palestinians may be trying to smuggle more advanced weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles, through the tunnels.
Rafah and its refugee camps have been a main flashpoint of violence since fighting erupted more than three years ago. Gunmen have attacked army outposts along the border and clashed with soldiers patrolling the area.
About 114 homes were destroyed as the Rafah military operation began Oct. 10, leaving some 1,240 Palestinians homeless, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (search), which aids Palestinian refugees.
In violence on Saturday, Israeli troops fired on armed Hamas militants laying explosives along paths traveled by Israeli tanks in the Brazil refugee camp, the army and Hamas members said.
Tariq Abu Hussein (search), 39, a well-known field commander of the Hamas military wing, and another Hamas militant, Hussam Mughier, 26, were killed. At least 10 people were wounded. Hamas vowed to avenge Hussein's death.
A woman, Widad Ajrami, 28, who came with other bystanders to evacuate casualties, was killed when the army fired on the group with tanks and machine guns, witnesses said. An army spokeswoman said soldiers only shot at armed men and denied reports that troops had fired a tank shell.
So far, in the entire Rafah-area operation, 14 Palestinians -- including two children and a woman bystander -- have been killed. Troops have uncovered and blown up three smuggling tunnels.
Also Sunday, Israel's army called up five reserve battalions -- about 5,000 soldiers -- to replace conscript soldiers serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The officials said the callup followed a government decision last week, but did not elaborate.