GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops left behind a wide swath of destruction Thursday through a neighborhood in their biggest offensive here in years, blowing up several multistory buildings, damaging scores of homes, uprooting hundreds of trees and tearing up the main road.

The Israeli military said three of the demolished buildings had served as cover for gunmen attacking soldiers and three more had housed weapons workshops.

Palestinians said much of the destruction was indiscriminate.

"I am calling on the world to condemn these military crimes against our people," said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

During the two-day operation, troops searched for the remains of six comrades killed in an explosion that ripped apart their armored personnel carrier in the heart of the Zeitoun neighborhood. Soldiers went from house to house to recover the body parts, including a severed head displayed by militants shortly after the attack.

Troops withdrew early Thursday after some of the remains were retrieved, the army said. It said some of the damage to the neighborhood resulted from Palestinian resistance and the impact of the explosion that destroyed the armored vehicle.

"As a result of that explosion, there was a lot of collateral damage over a large area," said military spokeswoman Maj. Sharon Feingold. "Also, two Palestinians tried to attack our forces, and when we shot at them, explosives they were carrying blew up."

More damage was caused when troops blew up workshops manufacturing rockets that are targeted at Israelis, Feingold said.

Residents retrieved belongings from piles of rubble. Children climbed into the crater dug by the explosion of the armored personnel carrier, and a young boy dug up a bloodied, torn helmet of an Israeli soldier. Another displayed what looked like an Israeli military uniform.

In all, the army blew up four multistory buildings and badly damaged a fifth under construction. Nearly 100 residents were left homeless.

Dozens of houses were damaged. Some had facades shorn off by massive bulldozers, while others were hit by missiles that left wrecking-ball-sized holes.

Fatima Doula counted more than 75 bullet holes in the walls of her two-story home. All the windows had been blown out. Doula said she and 13 members of her family had cowered in a bathroom during the 36-hour Israeli operation because heavy Israeli gunfire and shelling made it impossible to venture out.

"Nothing can justify what they did to us," she said.

Most of Zeitoun's damage was concentrated in a half-square-mile area along Salah al Din Street, the main thoroughfare. Army bulldozers dug up water mains and sewage pipes, flooding the area along a one-mile stretch, rendering the street impassable.

Palestinian Housing Minister Abdel Rahman Hamad said it would take at least three days to evaluate the damage. "This is total destruction aimed to make our people kneel down," he said. "It is an act of terrorism."

On either side of Salah al Din Street, scores of shops and dwellings were damaged, and hundreds of olive trees in nearby groves were uprooted.

Salman Haji, 55, the owner of two seven-story buildings in Zeitoun, said the army had blown up one, reducing it to rubble, and damaged the other to the point where it would have to be pulled down. Both were near the scene of the explosion.