Israeli troops, tanks and attack helicopters were back inside the Gaza Strip again Sunday, firing missiles and exchanging gunfire with militants, signalling that the large-scale operation that began after a soldier was captured last month is still in full swing.
Israeli troops entered the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza early Sunday, residents and Palestinian security officials said, as attack helicopters fired machine guns. Beit Hanoun is opposite the Israeli town of Sderot, a frequent target of Palestinian rockets. One Palestinian was killed and at least 12 wounded in Israeli airstrikes in Beit Hanoun, hospital officials said. Also, ambulances were unable to reach the scene of one missile strike aimed at militants.
The military said its forces attacked militants and fire a missile at a Hamas office in northern Gaza.
Armed Palestinians exchanged fire with Israeli forces, and militants said they set off a land mine next to an Israeli bulldozer building embankments near the residential areas of the town. Hamas said its cells activated bombs against several Israeli bulldozers and tanks.
The Israeli military said Israeli forces operating in the area fired at a group of militants and a Hamas office. Israel started its offensive in Gaza on June 28, three days after Hamas-backed militants tunnelled under the border and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. Israel has declared two goals for its Gaza offensive _ winning release of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and ending Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities around Gaza. Two rockets reached as far as the city of Ashkelon, 12 kilometers (7 miles) northeast of Gaza.
Ten days ago Israeli forces carried out a two-day sweep of northern Gaza, entering Beit Hanoun and another town, Beit Lahiya, looking for militants and leaving behind a swath of destruction. Israeli forces earlier moved into the south-eastern corner of Gaza, and after the first operation was completed in the north, Israel sent tanks and troops into another sector of southern Gaza. By Saturday, however, all Israeli ground forces were out of the territory.
However, air strikes continued unabated. On Saturday, Israeli aircraft struck four targets, killing two Palestinians. The targets were the Palestinian Economics Ministry in Gaza City, a bridge in the south, a Hamas weapons workshop and a group militants preparing to fire rockets at Israel, the military said.
Witnesses and Palestinian security said the new land operation in northern Gaza started Saturday evening with machine gun and shell fire, then about 10 tanks and bulldozers crossed into Gaza, with dozens of other armoured vehicles poised just inside Israel. Palestinian hospital officials said two people were wounded by Israeli shells.
An AP reporter in Gaza City heard an Israeli broadcast on a radio frequency usually used by a Hamas station calling on residents to stay out of the way of the fighting. "We are not gong to stop op in Gaza until the terrorist hand over the soldier Gilad Shalit," said the broadcaster, apparently an Israeli soldier, in broken Arabic.