- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2004

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops moved out of a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Gaza last night, the army said, ending a two-day raid that killed 11 Palestinians and wounded dozens, the largest Israeli military operation since Yasser Arafat’s death last month.

The raid in Khan Younis was launched Friday in response to Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks over the past week. Israel had said it would refrain from major offensives in the run-up to the Jan. 9 Palestinian elections, but would take action if attacked.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party and the opposition Labor Party worked to finalize their pact to form a coalition government amid reports the new Cabinet — which Mr. Sharon seeks to bolster his government as he carries out a planned Gaza withdrawal — could be sworn in as early as Thursday.

Residents of Khan Younis said they saw 10 Israeli tanks pulling out of the area yesterday evening. Palestinian security confirmed the troops had left.

In the Khan Younis fighting yesterday, two militants were killed by Israeli tank fire in separate incidents, Palestinian hospital officials said. The body of a third Palestinian was recovered yesterday morning, medical officials said. It was not clear whether he was a militant.

A total of 11 Palestinians, including at least seven militants, were killed and 43 others wounded since Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the camp Friday. A Palestinian ambulance driver and five children under the age of 16 were among the wounded. One Israeli soldier also was wounded.

Hundreds of residents who had evacuated their homes began returning to the camp, even though the area was engulfed in complete darkness because the electric grid had been damaged in the operation. Some residents found their homes demolished or damaged.

The raid was in response to more than 50 mortar and rocket attacks launched by Palestinians during the past week which killed a Thai worker in a Jewish settlement and injured 17 others, including 11 soldiers, the army said.

The army said some houses used by militants to launch mortars or rockets were targeted.

Yesterday, Palestinian militants in northern Gaza launched three homemade rockets, two of which landed in Israel but caused no injuries or damage, the army said.

Under the Likud-Labor coalition plan, Labor leader Shimon Peres would become deputy prime minister. Israeli media reported yesterday that the two sides planned to sign the accord today and the new ministers would be sworn in Thursday.

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