Israeli troops withdraw from eastern Gaza

Gaza - Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza City's eastern outskirts early on Thursday, ending a four-day operation during which 20 Palestinians were killed, witnesses and an Israeli army spokesperson said.

The troops had rolled into eastern Gaza City's Sheja'eya neighbourhood early on Sunday, acting on intelligence information that militants had dug a tunnel with the aim of attacking Israeli soldiers guarding the nearby Karni commercial crossing with Israel, located east of Gaza City.

The troops found the tunnel, which was 13 metres deep and 150 metres long, Sunday and blew it up in a controlled explosion on Wednesday.

Hospital officials said 12 of the 20 dead, among them three children, were civilians. The eight others were militants who had confronted the Israeli troops.

Witnesses said Israeli planes dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Thursday morning, telling residents that militants were responsible for the closure of border crossings between Israel and Gaza and warning them not to "offer any help to terrorists who are making your daily life very difficult."

Palestinian militants, meanwhile, renewed their rocket fire at Israel, with at least seven Gaza-made Qassam rockets landing in and near the southern Israeli town of Sderot. A warehouse was hit and set on fire, but no one was injured.

In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers shot dead a senior member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades early Thursday during an arrest raid in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, medical officials said.

An army unit entered the city in pursuit of militants and engaged some of them in a gunbattle, killing one and injuring several others, some critically, Rafidya hospital in Nablus said.

The dead militant was identified as Fadi Qfeishe, 30, a leader of the military wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, who had been sought by Israel for several years.

Israeli defence officials said Qfeishe was the most senior bomb maker in the West Bank, responsible for assembling the bomb belts of nearly all suicide bombings committed in Israel in the past year.

Also in Gaza City, a group of masked Palestinian gunmen ambushed and shot dead the northern Gaza head of the militant Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) group.

Raed Nakhal, 30, was the northern Gaza commander of the PRC's armed wing, the Salah a-Din Brigades.

The PRC is one of three militant groups, led by the armed wing of the governing Palestinian Hamas movement, behind the abduction of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalid which triggered Israel's wide-scale offensive in Gaza. - Sapa-dpa

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