GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli tanks and infantry pulled out of the southern Gaza Strip early Tuesday, halting the largest ground operation in the area in months.
The troops entered the sparsely populated area on Monday, pushing more than a mile into Gaza. Soldiers searched from house to house, detaining about 40 Palestinians for questioning, the army said. Four Palestinians were arrested, the army said. No major fighting was reported.
Some weapons were confiscated and furniture and windows were broken in some of the homes, Palestinian security officials said. The troops left the area at daybreak Tuesday, the army said.
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Omar Jarghoun, a 40-year-old-farmer in the village of Muamer, said troops took over his home early Monday to use as a monitoring position, poking holes in his walls for snipers and destroying his wooden doors and windows.
Jarghoun said he fled the house before the troops moved in. "We ran when we knew they were coming. We just left the house for them," he said.
He returned to the home with his wife and eight children on Tuesday and sifted through his belongings, which were strewn around the house. He said a laptop and some jewelry of his wife, and a camera disappeared. The army was looking into the claim.
The Israeli operation was the largest inside Gaza since a cease-fire took hold last November, ending months of fighting following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. The truce collapsed last month when militants from the Islamic group Hamas began firing rockets into Israel.
Since then, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes and several small ground incursions meant to halt rocket launchers in northern Gaza. More than 60 Palestinians, mostly militants, have been killed in the Israeli action.
There has been a drop in rocket fire in recent days, although four Israeli soldiers were wounded in a mortar attack on an army base near Gaza on Sunday. Hamas claimed responsibility. It also claimed responsibility for firing six more mortar shells at Israel on Monday, causing no casualties.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in September 2005, ending a 38-year military presence.
On Monday, the Palestinian government — which is composed of Hamas and the more moderate Fatah party — approved a proposal for a truce, Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti announced.
But the proposal also included the West Bank — an idea that Israel has rejected. Officials have called the Gaza truce a "sham" and say West Bank militants would use any lull to regroup and increase attacks.
In the West Bank Tuesday, a 14-year-old Palestinian youth was shot and moderately wounded in the stomach by Israeli troops during an operation in the town of Jenin, witnesses said. Medical workers said the boy was shot when soldiers fired at stone throwers. The army confirmed an operation was under way in Jenin. It gave no further information.
In east Jerusalem, Israeli police shut down on Tuesday a Palestinian conference to mark 40 years since Israel captured the sector of the city, police and organizers said.
The gathering was banned since it was backed by the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli law prohibits from operating in east Jerusalem, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, soon after capturing it.
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