IDF said leaving some Rafah areas; IDF: Troops ‘redeploying’

21/05/2004 By BPI. Service and Agencies Israel Defense Forces troops and tanks began pulling out of two areas of the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip at daybreak Friday, witnesses said, after a three-day hunt for tunnels used to smuggle weapons across the border with neighboring Egypt. But it was not immediately clear if the operation was over. Palestinian security officials said Israeli snipers continued to control buildings, and attack helicopters were in the sky. Doctors said that relief convoys could not yet enter the camp. IDF sources confirmed that soldiers were „redeploying” after the operation in the camp, but they said that in principle, the search for weapons-smuggling tunnels under the border would continue. Minister Gideon Ezra (Likud) said Friday that IDF troops were set to block arms-smuggling tunnels in Rafah based on information gleaned from questioning Palestinians who know the tunnels’ whereabouts. „I’m convinced the missions haven’t been completed,” Ezra told Israel Radio. „Now they’ll go from target to target and block tunnels.” A smaller deployment of IDF troops would remain in the camp for an undefined period of time, military sources said. A total of 40 Palestinians have been killed during „Operation Rainbow,” launched early Tuesday. Most of them were armed, the army claims. Palestinians said early Friday most of the IDF tanks had left the Tel Sultan neighborhood, the focus of the operation, and others were pulling out of the Brazil section next to the border. Hundreds of Tel Sultan residents rushed into the streets to inspect the damage caused during the Israeli operation. But Israeli forces opened fire, and leaders urged people to remain indoors, a local doctor said. On Thursday, nine Palestinians – eight militants and an unknown man – were killed by IDF soldiers as troops moved into two new neighborhoods in Rafah, witnesses and military sources said. In addition, the body of Hamas’ military wing commander in Rafah was located Thursday evening; the circumstances of his death are unclear. In the West Bank, two Palestinians, including the local Hamas leader in Qalqilyah and a 13-year-old boy, were killed by IDF fire Thursday. An IDF soldier suffered critical wounds in a pre-dawn friendly fire incident in Jenin. In addition, Palestinian militants fired six Qassam rockets toward Israel on Thursday, but there were no injuries.