Israeli helicopter gun ships fired missiles into a crowded refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday, killing at least ten Palestinians and injuring a number of others. The attacks follow two days of fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants during which 11 Israeli soldiers were killed.
The past two days have seen some of the heaviest losses for the Israeli military in the past two and a half years of violence.
Five Israeli soldiers were killed near the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip Wednesday evening. Six soldiers were killed the day before in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.
In both instances, the soldiers died when their armored personnel carriers were blown up by roadside bombs.
Tensions have soared since early Tuesday when Israeli troops conducted a search for weapons in Zeitoun. As the troops were leaving, one of the armored personnel carriers hit a roadside bomb and exploded. Several militant groups claimed responsibility and militants paraded body parts of the dead soldiers after the attack. Israel sent in reinforcements to try to recover the soldiers' remains.
Sporadic but fierce clashes continued through much of Tuesday and Wednesday in Zeitoun, during which eight Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured.
Fighting also broke out in the southern Gaza Strip around the Rafah refugee camp. Again, soldiers were on what they said was a hunt for weapons when the second armored vehicle was blown up, killing five soldiers. Islamic Jihad quickly claimed responsibility for that ambush. Israel responded with missile strikes into the refugee camp.
Israeli forces pulled out of the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City early Thursday after what Palestinian sources said was an Egyptian-mediated deal in which the Israelis would leave and the militants would turn over the remains of the six soldiers killed on Tuesday.
Israel confirmed it had received remains, but denied it had negotiated for their return.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops have also been conducting security sweeps in the West Bank. Military sources confirm they have detained dozens of alleged Palestinian militants for questioning.