GAZA,(Reuters) – Israeli forces killed a Palestinian civilian during a raid in southern Gaza on Saturday, hospital officials and residents said, as the army pressed on with a four-month-old offensive against militants.
An Israeli army spokesman said troops clashed with militants during an operation near the Sufa Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, adding one gunman was hit. He had no further details. Hospital officials said the dead civilian was a man aged 50. Residents said he was shot and killed by soldiers.
Palestinian security officials and witnesses said a separate Israeli force of around 20 tanks entered northern Gaza, blocking the entrance to the town of Beit Hanoun and exchanging fire with gunmen there. There were no reports of casualties.
The army spokesman said he was unaware of the incident.
Over the past week, Israel has ramped up its offensive in Gaza, which it says is aimed at freeing a soldier abducted by gunmen in a cross-border raid last June and halting rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
Around 250 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed.
The Israeli-Palestinian violence has deepened the gloom in the territory, which is also beset by fighting between rival Palestinian factions that have stirred fears of civil war.
On Friday, unidentified gunmen opened fire on security vehicles escorting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s convoy through Gaza. Haniyeh, a senior leader of the ruling Hamas Islamist movement, was unhurt.
Officials in Haniyeh’s office said the attack did not appear to be an assassination attempt.
Residents said the attackers were relatives of an activist from President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction who was killed recently in fighting with Hamas.
At least 19 people have been killed this month in internal violence.
Abbas has hinted he might fire the government after efforts to form a unity cabinet aimed at lifting Western sanctions collapsed when Hamas refused to soften its stance toward Israel.
The moderate leader said this week he had to make a decision soon on the government’s fate. Haniyeh said he would reject any moves to oust his administration.
Hamas took power after scoring a surprise win over Fatah in elections in January, prompting Western countries to cut direct aid over the group’s refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence. Hamas seeks to destroy the Jewish state.