IDF Soldiers Withdraw From North Gaza Town of Beit Hanun

IDF soldier hurt in Gaza blast; 6 Palestinians killed by IDF fire; 53 Palestinians, soldier killed since raid began.

The Israel Defense Forces pulled out of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun before daybreak Tuesday, the military said, ending an almost week-long operation that killed 53 Palestinians, including 16 civilians, and an IDF soldier.

The IDF said forces took up new positions inside the Gaza Strip but outside the town. Residents reported troops and tanks withdrawing from the town overnight.

On Monday, five Palestinians, including two civilians, were killed by IDF forces in the northern Gaza Strip. In a separate incident, an IDF soldier was lightly wounded when a female suicide bomber blew herself up near troops operating the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations on Monday called for a ceasefire in the fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces in Gaza Strip and for UN observers to be sent to monitor the truce.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had written to the 15-nation UN Security Council urging it to take measures to stop IDF attacks on Gaza. Abbas also said he would be willing to accept a mutual ceasefire.

"We are willing to accept a ceasefire and we are willing to accept UN observers," Mansour said.

The army said that the female suicide bomber, who was wearing the explosive device, blew herself up near to the troops after they became suspicious of her and called on her to stop.

Relatives identified her as Mervat Masaoud, an 18-year-old student at Gaza's Islamic University. They said one of her cousins had blown himself up, along with another bomber, at the Ashdod port in 2004 in an attack that killed 10 people. This was the first suicide bombing against Israelis since a Tel Aviv falafel stand was blown up in April, killing 11 people.

The suicide attack came hours after an Israel Air Force aircraft fired a missile into a town in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, striking a group of youths on their way to school. A 16-year-old and a 20-year-old were killed in the strike, and at least three other people were wounded.

The IDF said troops on the ground in the same area had targeted four militants coming to collect launchers used to fire rockets into Israel. A local resident said a group of militants had gathered on a street corner near a kindergarten and that the strike was aimed at them. The militants were not wounded, he said.

The airstrike was directed at a minivan parked in the Jabalya camp. A Palestinian security official said the minivan was empty at the time of the strike and that all of the wounded were passersby.

In a separate incident Monday, three Hamas militants were killed by IDF fire. They were named as Alla Seeam, 20; Mahmoud al-Kafarna, 20; and Mahmoud Taha, 32.

Soldiers have been operating in the town since last Wednesday, in an effort to curb Qassam rocket fire on southern Israel.

Meanwhile, four Qassam rockets landed in the western Negev on Monday, the IDF said. There were no injuries or damages in any of the incidents.

Military sources believe the operation is likely to last several more days, Army Radio reported on Monday.

Also Monday, an IDF unmanned aerial vehicle crashed near Moshav Nativ Ha'asarah. There were no injuries or damages in the accident. In a separate incident, and IDF vehicle in the Gaza Strip caught on fire due to a short circuit. There were no injuries in that incident, either.

Three Palestinians killed SundayOn Sunday, three Palestinians, including two militants, were killed by IDF fire in Beit Hanun, as the IDF continued its offensive in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian rocket fire directed at Israel.

Palestinians identified the dead militants, killed in gun battles with the IDF, as 23-year-old Mahdi al-Hamadin of Hamas and Wissam Obayed of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. A third Palestinian gunmen was seriously injured.

There were indications that violence had also spread to the West Bank where according to initial reports, IDF troops wounded two armed Palestinians during patrols for wanted men in and around Nablus.

Despite the intense IDF pressure, the army said that 10 Qassam rockets were fired toward the western Negev on Sunday, four of which hit the Sderot area.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday refused to say exactly when the IDF offensive in the Gaza Strip would end, confirming only that the operation would continue until Palestinian rocket attacks significantly decrease.

"We have declared that we will never accept the ongoing Qassam fire and that we would take any steps needed to considerably reduce the fire and prevent terror activity," Olmert told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "The operation is limited in time but we have no intention of announcing when it will end."

"When we reach the conclusion that the effectiveness of the operation is bringing us closer to reaching the goals, we will definitely pull our forces out of Gaza," he added. "We have no intention to occupy Gaza."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that so far, the IDF's offensive in Gaza was going as planned. "The operation in Gaza is being administered according to a focused plan - the IDF has taken control of most of Beit Hanun, including the casba. We have no intention of occupying Gaza again, but to continue with our focused plan."