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Violence Escalates in Gaza

  • Jim Teeple

Two women were killed Friday and about ten others wounded after Israeli troops fired on a group of women acting as human shields to protect Palestinian militants under siege by Israeli forces in a mosque in the Gaza Strip. In a separate incident, Palestinian authorities say four Hamas members were killed in Gaza City when an Israeli missile struck them.

Gunfire sparked panic as a large group of women marched towards a mosque in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which Israeli forces entered on Wednesday, as part of a campaign to stop Palestinian militants from launching homemade Qassam rockets at Israel.

The women had answered a call made on a local radio station to gather at the mosque, where a number of Palestinian militants have been under siege for a day by Israeli forces. More than 20 Palestinians, most of them militants have been killed in the fighting in Beit Hanoun. Saeb Erekat a senior Palestinian official told VOA it is time for the international community to intervene in Gaza.

"The situation in Gaza and in Beit Hanoun especially is very grave," he said. "I was contacted a few minutes ago by the director general of the hospital in Beit Hanoun who told that he has tens of wounded but he has no more water. The situation is deteriorating, there is no infrastructure, no electricity, no water 25 people have been killed and hundreds wounded. I believe the silence of the international in the face of such military escalation and this massacre is incomprehensible."

Israeli troops say they are investigating the matter but say their forces fired at armed Palestinians. Major Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces told VOA among the women marching toward the mosque were armed gunmen, and Israeli troops were being shot at from the mosque.

"The mosque was unfortunately being used by armed militants from Hamas as a shooting area really towards our forces," she said. "It is really sad to take a holy place and turn it around for military and warfare needs and this is basically what happened here."

In the confusion surrounding the incident all of the militants hiding in the mosque escaped.

The siege of the mosque began late Thursday after militants retreated to the site after pitched battles with Israeli troops. The Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun is the largest military operation since Israel withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip last year. Israel says, since the beginning of this year, Palestinian militants have launched 800 rockets at Israel, with 300 being fired from Beit Hanoun. Despite the large Israeli incursion, Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets - several landed in southern Israel on Friday, wounding two people.

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