Israeli troops leave destruction as they pull out of Gaza

ISRAELI forces yesterday pulled out of two neighbourhoods of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, leaving a trail of destruction and more newly homeless Palestinians.

Families returned to the Brazil area of Rafah, occupied by the army for two days, to find about 30 houses destroyed and 70 damaged, according to UN statistics. Despite international condemnation, Israel’s Gaza commander, Brigadier-General Shmuel Zakai, said he was not being pressured to curb the operation and it is "continuing as planned". He said more demolitions are possible.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper quoted from what it said was the text of the Gaza withdrawal plan presented last month by the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, in Washington and enthusiastically approved by President George Bush.

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The plan, Ha’aretz said, explicitly mentioned "physically widening" the Philadelphi corridor controlled by Israel along the Egyptian border, and thus its approval by Mr Bush constituted a US green light for demolitions, wrote Uzi Benziman, a veteran columnist.

The Rafah City Zoo was also destroyed by bulldozers, with remains of about 100 destroyed cages strewn among the rubble, and dead animals, including an ostrich, visible in the ruins.

The zoo owner, Mohammed Juma, said that of 87 kinds of animals gathered from around the world, only five species survived. "They attacked the cages with bulldozers and turned the zoo into a tank base. This is everything I had in my life. I put all my money into it."

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