Israeli troops raid Gaza, kill six militants

Israeli troops killed six Palestinian gunmen on Friday in some of the heaviest fighting for weeks in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical and militant sources said.

Two Israeli troops were wounded, the army said, as three separate raids were mounted into the territory, backed by air strikes. Seven Palestinian militants and three civilians were wounded, hospital staff said.

Fighters from Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza, were joined by other militants in battles that began overnight.

The Israeli army, which described the raids as ”routine”, said its forces pulled back in early afternoon and witnesses said fighting appeared to have ended. On Thursday, Israel said it planned to start cutting power supplies to Gaza in response to almost daily rocket fire on Israeli towns nearby.

Explosions and gunfire could be heard throughout Gaza and plumes of smoke billowed from the battle zones, in the north, south and centre of the 45km strip of coast.

Hamas, which routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to seize control of the territory in June, said three of its men were killed. Islamic Jihad militants said three of their number also died in the clashes.

Hamas said its fighters had overrun a small Israeli position and shot two soldiers. The group showed journalists some Israeli military equipment, some of it bloodstained — evidence Hamas leaders said of their fighters’ successes.

As the fighting died down, Abbas met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an effort to narrow differences over a possible peace settlement that the United States hopes to push forward at a conference to be held near Washington before the year ends.

Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, dismissed such meetings as ”a cover for continued Israeli aggression”. — Reuters

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