At least eight Palestinian militants have been killed as Israel continues its offensive in the northern Gaza Strip. A senior Israeli officer was seriously wounded. Both sides have been locked in deadly urban combat, with the civilian population caught in the middle.
Israeli troops backed by tanks and helicopters fought running street battles with Palestinian gunmen in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza for the fourth straight day. On Saturday, Israel launched a series of air strikes. In one of them, a missile hit a minivan carrying gunmen from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas. The group said a top Hamas rocket-maker was killed.
The army said troops demolished several buildings used to store weapons, but warned residents to evacuate beforehand.
Hamas has also inflicted casualties. Gunmen attacked a building used by Israeli forces, detonating explosives and firing rockets.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the aim of the offensive is to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli border communities.
"The Israeli operation in Gaza is a defensive operation, if missiles weren't being launched from Gaza, specifically from that location Beit Hanoun, we've had some 300 rockets launched into Israel, if they weren't being shot, if we weren't seeing our civilian population in Israel targeted the way it has been, this operation happening today wouldn't be occurring," said Regev.
Palestinian leaders are appealing for international intervention to end the Israeli assault. They accuse Israel of "state terrorism," especially after two unarmed women protesters were shot dead on Friday, while acting as human shields to protect besieged gunmen holed up in a mosque.
Palestinian fighters are promising revenge, vowing to target the nearby Israeli town of Sderot that has been hard-hit by rocket attacks.
"We warn all Israelis in Sderot to leave their homes if they value their lives," one masked militant declared.
Israel says the northern Gaza operation is limited, and the army will pull out when the mission is completed. But commanders say they are planning another operation in southern Gaza to halt cross-border weapons smuggling from Egypt to the Palestinians.