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Fierce Gun Battles Break Out in Northern Gaza


There has been fierce fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, as an Israeli ground offensive against Palestinian militants continues. At least 24 Palestinians, mostly militants, and an Israeli soldier have been killed since Thursday.

Israeli troops are fighting pitched battles with Palestinian gunmen on the streets of northern Gaza. The gunmen, armed with rifles, anti-tank missiles and rocket propelled grenades are no match for Israeli tanks and helicopters.

Israeli forces have deployed on the ruins of three Jewish settlements, which Israel abandoned 11 months ago. Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel left Gaza and has no intention of staying there.

"We will not sink into the Gaza quagmire," Peretz told troops on the front line. But he said Israel would respond harshly to attacks on its sovereign territory.

The army launched the operation to stop weeks of Palestinian rocket attacks that have terrorized Israeli communities near the Gaza border. Israel is also pressuring the Palestinian government, led by the Islamic militant group Hamas, to release a soldier who was kidnapped from an army base nearly two weeks ago.

"He was taken out of his outpost walking, he will be returning to us walking, alive, and safely back to his family," said Israeli spokesman Ra'anan Gissin.

Hamas gunmen holding the 19-year-old corporal say he won't be freed unless Israel releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, but Israel has refused.

The Palestinians are appealing to the international community to stop the Israeli assault, describing it as a "crime against humanity."

"We hope and we urge the American administration to interfere in order to stop this kind of escalation," said Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Redeineh.

Israel says the operation could last days or weeks, depending on the Palestinian response.