Israeli forces return to Gaza, clash with Palestinian militants

Reuters / July 16, 2006

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli forces clashed with militants in Gaza today as tanks moved back into northern Gaza Strip in an offensive that has continued even as fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas raged on the Lebanese front.

The Gaza offensive, aimed at recovering a captured soldier and stopping armed groups from firing makeshift rockets, has put pressure on the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which demands a prisoner swap for the Israeli corporal.

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, backed by helicopters with machine guns sending down bursts of fire, moved into farmland near Beit Hanoun, an area often used by militants for launching rockets. The town is across the border from the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been hit by guerrilla rockets.

Small groups of militants opened fire at the Israeli forces, and hospital officials said two Palestinians were wounded.

Yesterday, Israeli planes struck the Economy Ministry of the Palestinian government and three other targets, killing two , Palestinian and Israeli officials reported.

The attack targeted the Hamas administration. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured from Gaza on June 25.

Israel, which began its offensive in Gaza three days after the abduction, has said it will not discuss a prisoner exchange.

Israeli troops had pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip after a major raid into the territory, which Israel abandoned in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

The Gaza offensive has killed some 85 people, about half of them militants.

Israel is striking and reoccupying parts of Gaza while carrying out one of the largest military operations in Lebanon since its 1982 invasion.