IDF tanks gaza 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Following 72 hours of intense fighting, the IDF withdrew from the central Gaza Strip Saturday night, leaving behind 21 dead Palestinians, including seven killed earlier in the day.
The IDF said at least 18 of those were terrorists.
Analysis: Trimming the terror lawn
Although Operation Rain Man, launched two days earlier against Hamas's terror infrastructure, came to an end, Givati Brigade infantry accompanied by tanks raided the northern Gaza Strip near Beit Hanun in a new operation dubbed Four Species after the Succot holiday that ended Saturday night.
Their objective was to prevent Kassam rocket launchings. The IDF said it hoped the army's presence would deter terrorists from trying to reach the area to launch rockets. The soldiers were also ordered to uproot vegetation used as cover by rocket squads.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered the military to maintain the pressure on the terrorists behind the Kassam attacks.
Nevertheless, three people were wounded, including one moderately, Friday night when a Kassam rocket landed in the backyard of a Sderot home. A second rocket landed in the city's soccer stadium, which was empty at the time but had hosted a match only a few hours earlier.
At least one Palestinian was killed in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood Saturday afternoon when IAF aircraft fired three missiles at a car carrying two Fatah terrorists on their way to fire rockets at Western Negev communities.
Earlier in the day, a missile struck a group of six Hamas gunmen in Gaza City. Palestinian Authority security officials said 15 people were wounded, including two critically. More than a dozen IDF tanks entered the area and traded fire with gunmen.
"We needed to mow the terror lawn in Gaza," said a source in the Southern Command, referring to Operation Rain Man. "We achieved our goals for now but will return if the need arises."
On Friday, the IDF set up a makeshift detention center at a military base near the border with Gaza to interrogate dozens of Palestinians detained in the latest operations.
IAF aircraft also destroyed a building in Rafah that was concealing a weapons-smuggling tunnel. Prior to the attack, residents were warned by telephone, and no one was injured.
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led PA government, said Israel had "evil plans for a bloody military escalation" in the Gaza Strip.
Since the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, the IDF has carried out several operations in the Gaza Strip against terrorists linked to Hamas. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed since then.
AP contributed to this report.