Israel expands Gaza offensive
By Nidal al-Mughrabi Tue Jul 11, 11:29 PM ET
GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli tanks swept into the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday
and an air raid targeting top Hamas commanders killed six Palestinians as
Israel broadened a two-week-old offensive.
Israel has vowed to continue the operation, which has already cost the lives
of over 65 Palestinians, until militants free captured Corporal Gilad Shalit
and stop launching makeshift rockets over the border.
Dozens of armoured vehicles trundled into central Gaza before dawn,
effectively cutting the main road down the territory from which Israel withdrew
less than a year ago after a 38-year occupation.
Israel has rejected calls from the governing Hamas Islamist movement for
negotiations on a prisoner swap for the 19-year-old tank gunner, whose
abduction on June 25 has triggered the worst fighting between Israelis and
Palestinians since 2004.
In an attempt to kill senior commanders of Hamas's armed wing, an Israeli air
raid brought down a three-storey building on the northern edge of Gaza City.
At least six people, including two women and two children, were killed in the
attack that turned the house into a tangle of twisted metal, broken concrete,
blood and dust.
But the blast and air strike on a nearby car hurt only one Hamas leader,
militants said. Abu Anas al-Ghandour, commander in northern Gaza, was not in a
life-threatening condition. Hamas militants helped capture Shalit in a raid
"There was an attack on a structure in the northern Gaza Strip used by senior
members of the Hamas terrorist group," an army spokeswoman said. "Following
intelligence information it was decided to target them to thwart future
The wreckage of the building recalled Israel's assassination of Hamas
military commander Salah Shehada in 2002 by dropping a one-tonne bomb on his
home. The death of 14 other people in that attack drew a wave of international
Israel has come under pressure from the European Union and United Nations
over its Gaza offensive. They have said they fear it will cause a humanitarian
catastrophe in the densely populated territory of 1.4 million.
But Israel has not faced criticism from its main ally, the United States,
leading a Western aid embargo on the Hamas-led government in the hope of
pressing it to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept peace accords.
Hamas accuses Israel of using the offensive to try to topple its elected
The Israeli thrust into central Gaza took troops up to the main road linking
the north and south of the territory, a route that was often cut during the
years of Israeli rule. Police told travelers to seek an alternative route along
Israeli forces had already pushed into the edge of southern Gaza, where
Shalit was taken immediately after his capture. They had also entered the north
of the territory, source of much of the rocket fire into Israel.
One policeman was killed in clashes as the Israeli troops entered central
Gaza. A commander of the Popular Resistance Committees militant group died in
an air strike close to the Kissufim crossing point from Israel.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams at Kissufim)
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