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At least 8 Palestinians Reported Killed by Israeli Troops in Gaza Battle

Fighting has broken out between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip as Israel expands its military operation in the Palestinian territory seeking to stop rocket attacks on its towns and cities.

Palestinian witnesses say at least six Palestinians have been killed in the fighting near the town of Beit Lahiya.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli tanks and troops took over three former Jewish settlements near the town, creating a buffer zone aimed at preventing Palestinian rocket attacks.

Speaking on Israeli television Thursday, Israel's defense minister Amir Peretz said his country is ready to leave the Gaza Strip once militants stop firing rockets at Israel and return a captured soldier alive.

In southern Gaza today, Palestinian witnesses say at least two people were killed and several others wounded in an Israeli air strike.

The Israeli army said the strike was carried out after Palestinian militants fired several anti-tank rockets at Israeli forces.

Israel says it expanded the Gaza offensive after Palestinian rockets hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon. It was the first time Palestinian rockets have hit an Israeli city.

Israeli military units re-entered Gaza after the Israeli soldier was kidnapped on June 25.

Last year, Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza and evacuated Jewish settlements there after a 40-year occupation.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.