GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli soldiers searching for tunnels and explosives withdrew from the outskirts of Gaza City on Thursday, the army said, ending a five-day operation that Palestinians said left 20 people dead, and heavily damaged houses, streets and farmlands.
The tunnel, which was 13 meters (yards) deep and 150 meters (yards) long and reinforced with wooden beams, was to be used to attack Israeli soldiers at the crossing, the army said.
Fifteen militants and five civilians died in the airstrikes and gunbattles that began late Saturday in Shajaiyeh, Palestinian hospital officials said Thursday. Rescue personnel said they found the lower half of a Palestinian man's body in a field, but didn't immediately know whether he was an additional casualty or a previously reported one.
After the last troops withdrew shortly after dawn, hundreds of people poured out of homes in Shajaiyeh and nearby neighborhoods to inspect the damage the army left behind. Tanks and bulldozers rumbling through the narrow streets of the neighborhood had pulled off the facades of houses and rutted streets. Many houses were riddled by hundreds of bullets fired by the tanks' machine guns.
Water and sewage pipes were burst, and electrical lines were torn down.
Farmers touring their lands found uprooted olive groves and destroyed chicken coops and cowsheds.
Ziad Sarsak, 29, who lost a cousin and an olive grove in the operation, said several houses belonging to his family, including his own, were badly damaged by shrapnel from tanks and bulldozers.
"They prevented us from leaving to look for water or food. They destroyed all means of life, and uprooted trees that are older than they are," Sarsak said.
"Look around, it's like an earthquake or a mad cow run amok in the neighborhood," he said. "I used to question why fighters are fighting Israel, but I think this time, I'm going to support their fight, because they are right and I was wrong."
Teams from the telephone company and municipality were out estimating damage and making repairs to streets and damaged water, sewage and electrical lines.
Separately, an army force raided the West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday morning and killed a militant leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group allied with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, witnesses said.
The Israeli force entered the Old City of Nablus after 2 a.m. and ambushed a group of fighters, killing the leader, Fadi Kafishe, and wounding six other people in a gunbattle, witnesses said.
About 5,000 people participated in his funeral procession, waving flags and vowing revenge for the militant leader's death. Militants from different factions — often at odds with each other — turned up for the funeral, firing bullets into the air.
Kafishe was a popular figure in Nablus, who escaped several other Israeli attempts to kill him.
The army said it was on a routine operation in Nablus when militants fired at the troops, who returned fire and identified hitting one person.