(AFP) – Dec 20, 2007
GAZA CITY (AFP) — Israeli troops killed at least seven Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, launching their latest ground offensive in a bid to curb rocket fire from the Hamas-run territory.
Another 20 people were wounded in the fighting, including three seriously, Muawiya Abu Hassanein, director of emergency services in Gaza said.
Two cameraman were also among the wounded, he said, accusing Israeli forces of preventing Palestinian ambulances from reaching the scene of the gunbattle to retrieve more feared casualties.
One Israeli soldier was also seriously wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and two others slightly wounded during the clashes, the army said.
Three of the dead were members of the armed wing of Hamas and three were members of the radical Islamic Jihad group. The final body, recovered after the troops left, was that of a fighter with the Popular Resistance Committees.
An Israeli army spokesman said troops identified hitting seven militants after troops moved into central Gaza for a "routine" operation in the area.
clashes finally slowed to a halt Thursday night, with Israeli troops withdrawing under a sheet of heavy rain.
Troops backed by tanks and helicopters had advanced nearly a kilometre (half a mile) into the Gaza Strip in the early morning, just east of the central Maghazi refugee camp, Palestinian witnesses said.
Hours later Gaza militants fired three rockets against southern Israel, one of which struck some 40 metres (yards) from a middle school in downtown Sderot, a town that has borne the brunt of the projectile fire from the territory.
Twelve pupils were treated for shock, police said.
The Popular Resistance Committees, a radical group that cooperates with the armed wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The operation came two days after a wave of Israeli air raids in Gaza killed 12 militants, including the head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing -- the most senior Palestinian militant Israel has killed in months.
Israel launches frequent ground and air strikes in Gaza with the aim of halting the near-daily firing of rockets and mortars from the territory at Israeli towns and military positions near the walled-off border.
The latest deaths brought to 5,995 the number of people killed in Israeli-Palestinian violence since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, the vast majority of them Palestinians, according to an AFP count.
Islamist movement Hamas -- which does not recognise Israel's right to exist -- seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June, routing Palestinian moderates and leading to the Jewish state declaring the territory a "hostile entity".
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