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Israeli Forces Leave Gaza after Fiercest Clashes in 14 Months

Israeli forces have ended an incursion into the Gaza Strip after fighting that left two Israeli soldiers and several Palestinian gunmen dead.

An Israeli armored force rolled out of Gaza after the fiercest gun battles since the Gaza War ended 14 months ago. Fighting erupted Friday, when two Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen on the Gaza border. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, claimed responsibility for the attack.

At a Gaza funeral for a Palestinian killed in the fighting, gunmen vowed to continue the armed struggle against Israel.

Friday's attack could mark a change in tactics for Hamas, which has mostly avoided confrontation since a severe pounding by Israel during the Gaza War. Israel launched the three-week invasion of Gaza to stop years of Palestinian rocket attacks, but in recent weeks, sporadic rocket fire has resumed.

Speaking on Israeli television, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Hamas against heating up the border.

He said Israel would not allow a return to the situation before the war when there were daily cross-border attacks. Barak said that if Hamas chooses an escalation, Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect its soldiers and civilians on the Gaza border.