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Israeli strikes kill 23 in Gaza, both militants and civilians

GAZA CITY -- Israeli strikes killed 23 people in the Gaza Strip yesterday, including 16 militants and a mother and her two young daughters, in the deadliest day of fighting since Israel withdrew from the coastal strip last year.

The violence, in which Palestinians said 76 people were wounded, came as Israel was embroiled in another deadly battle on its northern border with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

The fighting in Gaza began after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier in a June 25 cross-border raid. Israel launched an offensive to rescue the soldier, but later expanded its aims to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli towns.

Yesterday, Israeli aircraft, tanks, and artillery supported bulldozers that drove into northeastern Gaza, flattening orchards and greenhouses to deprive cover to militants firing rockets into Israel, the army said.

Most of the militants killed were hit by tank fire, airstrikes, and in clashes with Israeli troops in Gaza City. One militant was killed in northern Gaza by an artillery shell.

No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the fighting.

Sixteen of those killed were identified as militants by their Palestinian militant groups. A 3-year-old girl was also killed in Gaza City, hospital officials said. Two additional men were killed in Gaza City, but it was not clear if they were militants.

In northern Gaza, a woman and her two daughters were killed when an artillery shell landed on their house, hospital officials said.

Also yesterday, Gaza militants fired 11 rockets into Israel, slightly wounding one person in the town of Sderot.

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