Israeli troops moved into northern Gaza on Tuesday in a bid to halt rocket attacks by Palestinian militants but failed to stop a new volley landing in southern Israel, a day after the missiles claimed their first fatalities.
Meanwhile, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip.
In the northern town of Beit Hanun, at least 12 Palestinians were injured in clashes with the Israeli forces that had taken control of an industrial zone, an AFP correspondent reported.
Most of the victims, two of whom were in a serious condition, were teenagers who had been throwing stones at the Israelis.
Palestinian gunmen, including members of the Islamist movement Hamas’s military wing, could be seen on the streets of the town as Israeli helicopter gunships flew overhead, but there were no reports of armed clashes.
The troops moved in with armoured cars from two directions at about dawn before flattening several houses in the area with army bulldozers.
Witnesses said that Hamas announced by loudhailer that one of its fighters, Ghassam Adwakh (30), had been killed while attempting to detonate a bomb to slow down the Israeli advance although his body had yet to be recovered.
An Israeli army spokesperson said the objective of the raid was to stop rocket attacks on Israeli territory from the sector.
“The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] is determined to protect Israeli citizens and IDF forces by operating against any group or individual that carries out terrorist activity or supports it.”
The 14-year-old Palestinian, Ahmad Abu Eid, died in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis on after being hit in the chest by shots fired from an army position just outside the Jewish settlement of Neve Dkalim.
He was standing on the roof of his house feeding the pigeons when he was shot, Palestinian sources said.
The military also launched twin air strikes in Gaza overnight against targets linked to Hamas.
In the first raid, three Apache helicopter gunships fired five rockets at a 12-storey building in central Gaza City housing the offices of several Palestinian and overseas media organisations.
Three Palestinians were injured in that attack, an AFP journalist said.
The apparent target was the third-floor office of the Al Saada weekly, which has close links to Hamas.
A little later, another Apache helicopter fired two rockets at a metalworking plant in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, Palestinian security sources and an Israeli military spokesperson said.
Two Israelis, including a three-year-old child, were killed on Monday after Hamas fired four of its Qassam rockets at the town of Sderot, which lies barely a kilometre across the border with the Gaza Strip.
Three more Qassams landed in and around Sderot on Tuesday morning, slightly injuring one Israeli.
Residents in Sderot fear the attacks will only increase once Israeli troops leave the Gaza Strip next year under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.
Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim said on Tuesday that hardline groups such as Hamas are trying to turn the withdrawal from Gaza into an evacuation under fire but added that any reaction will be restrained.
“We can very easily wipe out Beit Hanun from the air, and thus resolve the problem,” he told army radio.
“We are putting restraints on ourselves in this war. Thus I cannot say that we are going to launch an operation to destroy things there. We will continue with the operations we have begun.”
A sign of the concern within Israeli ranks came when Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz decided to cancel a planned visit to Italy to monitor the situation.
Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that there could no swift victory in the battle against militants.
“This is a long-term war. There are not going to be any miracles, but rather a long and systematic process.”
Hamas also claimed responsibility for an attack on an Israeli military post in southern Gaza on Sunday night that left one soldier dead and five injured.
Israeli forces blew up two Palestinian apartment blocks overnight close to the site of Sunday’s attack while 16 houses in the nearby village of Al-Qarara were also razed, Palestinian sources said. — Sapa-AFP