Israel pulls out of Gaza
JERUSALEM -- Palestinians fired mortars Wednesday at Jewish settlements and an Israeli army position in Gaza, hours after the Israeli army withdrew from a small corner of Gaza that it had held less than a day.
Three mortar shells landed at the industrial zone of the Neve Dekalim settlement in southern Gaza, and three more landed near an army brigade headquarters in the north. There were no casualties.
News of the Israeli withdrawal came hours after the United States sharply criticized Israel for the raid, calling it an "excessive and disproportionate" response to Palestinian mortar attacks that Washington also criticized as "provocative."
In Gaza, the Palestinian regional security coordinating office Tuesday received a formal letter from Israel announcing its intent to withdraw. The letter asked that Palestinian police officers remain out of the area until the withdrawal is complete.
The occupied area included the village of Beit Hanoun, where the Israelis said the mortar attacks have originated. Israeli soldiers had also been deployed along the road from Karni to Netzarim, and in points near Gush Katif.
Israel: 'It was a limited operation'
Eyewitnesses in Beit Hanoun said Israeli bulldozers that had been leveling areas of land have now ceased work and preparations were being made for the withdrawal.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement: "After completing their mission, IDF forces are returning from the Gaza Strip to their previous positions."
Israeli generals earlier in the day warned that their troops could occupy the area "for months." But by nightfall, Israeli officials had toned down the rhetoric.
"When Israel announced its operation, it said it was a limited operation. It did not announce it was reoccupying parts of the Gaza Strip from which it had withdrawn," Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told CNN.
Asked if Washington's criticism played a part in the withdrawal, Gold said, "We pay very close attention to statements made by the United States and they're very important to us."
'Not just an escalation'
The military wing of the Muslim group Hamas took responsibility for the mortar attack launched at Sderot in the Negev Desert, saying it was retaliating against earlier Israeli strikes at Palestinian targets. The group vowed more attacks.
But in response, Israeli troops used a series of air, land and sea raids to occupy an L-shaped section of northern Gaza on Tuesday, sparking loud protests from Palestinians and their Arab allies.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the raids, which he said were "not just an escalation."
"They are dirty," he said. "They are intended to bring our people to their knees. Everyone should understand that our people are steadfast and will not kneel before these gangs attacking our people, villages and refugee camps."
Normally soft-spoken Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also blasted the Israelis, calling the raids and occupation "beyond the limit of what is acceptable."
"These strikes will have no effect, will lead to nothing other than more violence and bring an end to stability and the Israeli people will suffer more," he said.
Israel's Sharon -- Mubarak said -- was "endangering the peace process" with these attacks and the one launched on Monday against a Syrian radar installation in Lebanon.
Three Syrian soldiers were killed in Monday's attack.
Targets and casualties
The Israel Defense Forces said targets of raids included:
An armored vehicle and the guard position of a training base for Arafat's elite guard unit, Force 17, in the Dir El-Balach docks.
Tanzim Commanders' office in Dir El-Balach.
Preventative Security headquarters in Sheich Raduan.
The headquarters of the commander of the Palestinian Police in Gaza.
Destruction of Palestinian posts south of the Erez crossing.
Israeli troops shot dead 17-year-old Palestinian Bassam Zaharan in the West Bank, who Israelis said had stabbed an Israeli soldier.
In Gaza, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed near Karni Crossing and a 10-year-old boy was wounded when he walked in front of a tank at Rafah on the Egyptian border and was shot in the head. The agency said 36 others were wounded.
Since the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence began last September, more than 420 Palestinians have been killed, along with 71 Israeli Jews, 13 Israeli Arabs and one German.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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