GAZA, (Reuters) – Several Israeli tanks entered the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday in a raid the army said was aimed at stopping Palestinian militants from firing makeshift rockets at the Jewish state.
Palestinian witnesses said tanks had moved on to farmland near the town of Beit Hanoun. There were no clashes.
The Israeli army said the troops were still in the area several hours after they had entered in the early hours of Saturday, and their operation was continuing.
“We are trying to stop cells from going into these areas and carrying out rocket attacks,” an army spokesman said. He added later that militants fired one rocket into southern Israel after the tanks entered.
Palestinian militant groups have resumed firing homemade rockets at Israeli towns from areas in northern Gaza in recent days after a relative lull.
Israeli forces launched a major offensive against militants in Gaza in late June, in response to the abduction of an Israeli soldier by gunmen in a cross-border raid and also following a spate of rocket launches.
Nearly 220 Palestinians have been killed, about half of them civilians, in the offensive. The Palestinian rockets rarely kill anyone, but often draw a heavy Israeli response since the Jewish state had expected quiet along the Gaza border following the pullout of soldiers and settlers from the strip a year ago.
Internal Palestinian clashes also erupted in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, witnesses said.
They said a gunfight broke out when members of a Hamas-led security force stopped militants from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, from entering a hospital with their weapons.
One security force member was wounded, the witnesses said.
Later, some 3,000 government employees and supporters of Abbas and his Fatah movement rallied in Gaza City and called on him to sack Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s government due to its inability to pay their salaries.
A Western aid embargo has prevented the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority from paying salaries to its 165,000 workers since March, when the Islamic militant group swept to power, increasing poverty and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.