Israeli Troops Leave Gaza Town in Ruins Israeli forces pulled out of the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, after a weeklong offensive aimed at curbing Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel. About 50 Palestinians -- civilians as well as gunmen -- were killed in the operation, and much of the town was left in ruins.

Israeli Troops Leave Gaza Town in Ruins

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

In the Gaza Strip today, Israeli troops pulled back from the town of Beit Hanoun, bringing an end to a six-day incursion. Israel's aim was to stop Palestinian rocket fire to nearby towns in southern Israel. Palestinians say Israeli troops killed 62 Palestinians, including 18 civilians, during the firefight. Much of Beit Hanoun lies in ruins.

NPR's Linda Gradstein spent the day in the town and sent this report.

(Soundbite of street noise)

LINDA GRADSTEIN: It was a day of funerals here, with the bodies of more than a dozen young men wrapped in bloodstained shrouds laid out on the floor of a mosque in this town of 30,000. The streets around the mosque have been torn up by Israeli tanks, and water gushing from broken pipes has turned the area into a sea of mud. Telephone poles lean to one side, and there's a strong smell of sewage. Mohammed Hamed, a young doctor, has spent the past six days at the Beit Hanoun hospital trying to cope with the casualties. He says the hospital has had no electricity since the Israeli incursion began, and there was little he could do for many of the victims.

Mr. MOHAMMED HAMED: Because there is no space. The capacity of the hospital is very little. No, as we said here, we use first aid. We can't deal with all of the patients.

GRADSTEIN: During the Israeli operation, Hamed says several patients died while the hospital waited for permission from Israeli commanders to transfer them from Beit Hanoun to other facilities. Almost everyone here seems to know someone who was killed or wounded during the past week. Khaled Abdel Shafi, the director of the United Nations development program in Gaza, says the U.N. is still trying to assess the damage in Beit Hanoun.

Mr. KHALED ABDEL SHAFI (United Nations Development Program, Gaza): Obviously, from touring around the city, there is a lot of destruction for the infrastructure, roads, electricity, water systems were damaged, private houses, public buildings, including some U.N. installations, were damaged by the tanks.

Unidentified Woman: Say, say. Speak.

(Soundbite of dog)

GRADSTEIN: In a house across the street from the local cemetery, the women of the Nasir family are baking bread on an open fire in what used to be their living room. Israeli bulldozers smashed the front of their house, leaving piles of concrete and twisted metal struts. More than 60 members of the extended family live in what's left of the three story house. The women say Israeli troops entered the house at the outset of the incursion and ordered everyone to leave. The men were taken to a makeshift prison camp where they were ordered to strip and held for three days. The women and children were taken to the local clinic where they spent the night before being allowed back into their home.

Israeli officials say the goal of the incursion was to hit the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and halt Palestinian rocket fire at nearby Israeli towns. Military officials are calling the incursion a success. But angry Palestinians, like 28-year-old Sousa Nasir, say the rocket fire on southern Israel will only increase now.

Ms. SOUSA NASIR: We don't do anything to them, and they destroy our house. So we must do to him everything, and we'll do what we want.

GRADSTEIN: Khaled Abdel Shafi of the UNDP agrees that the Israeli incursion will not end the rocket fire.

Mr. SHAFI: I don't know what message Israel is trying to give, but certainly such destruction will not help in bringing quiet. This will have a counterproductive effect. It will deepen the hatred; it will deepen the frustration, hopelessness.

GRADSTEIN: In a field outside town, brothers Hikmat and Yasser Hammad survey the destruction of their livelihood. Together, they own two and a half acres of tangerine and olive trees, enough to eke out a living. But in the incursion, Israeli tanks and bulldozers uprooted all the trees. Yasir says that about three months ago, he and his brother chased away a group of militants who tried to set up rocket launchers in their grove. If those militants come back, he says, he won't stand in their way.

Mr. YASSER HAMMAD: (Through translator) We got fed up from this life. It's all the same now. If they want to launch, let them launch. I don't care anymore.

GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Beit Hanoun, Gaza.

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