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Israeli commandos clash with Hamas militants

Israeli soldiers work on their Merkava tanks in an army deployment area near Israel''s border with the Gaza Strip.

Israeli naval commandos clashed with Hamas militants in a raid on the coast of the Gaza Strip today, in what appeared to be the first ground assault of a six-day Israeli offensive on the territory aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire.

With aerial support from fighter jets, the Israeli force attacked a site in northern Gaza used to launch long-range rockets, an Israeli military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, said. Militants opened fire, wounding four commandos, but the launch site was hit, he said.

Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Lerner said the forces had "completed their mission" and that the results of the raid "would be the first published ground activity" by naval troops in Gaza, in an offensive that Palestinian officials said has killed 149 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

No Israeli has been killed by Hamas's rocket fire.

Two hours after the announcement of the raid, militants fired a long-range rocket salvo, with air raid sirens sounding at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport and some city suburbs.

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilised about 20,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

Lerner said Israel would drop leaflets in northern Gaza's Beit Lahiya to urge thousands of residents to evacuate ahead of planned strikes there.

"It's our assessment a huge majority of rockets are being launched (at Israel) from northern areas" in Gaza, he said.

Islamist Hamas, which dominates Gaza, has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, striking the deepest inside the country ever.

The Israeli military said more than 800 rockets had been launched since its offensive began on Tuesday. Israel said it has carried out 1,320 attacks on militant targets, half against rocket launch sites, and the rest at command centres, rocket manufacturing installations, warehouses and smuggling tunnels.

The cross-border violence shows no signs of abating despite mounting international pressure on both sides to end the violence. The UN Security Council called for a cessation of hostilities and Western Foreign Ministers were due to meet on Sunday to discuss the need for a ceasefire.

Sirens warning of incoming rockets went off throughout the night in Israel, sending residents running for safe rooms and bomb shelters.

Israeli aircraft carried out a series of attacks in Gaza, including against a police headquarters and a security compound, Palestinian officials said.

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Tags:  Israel  Gaza  Palestine  Hamas  rockets  World  





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