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Seven Palestinians, including one child, killed in Gaza fighting - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli forces launched air strikes and a ground raid on Gaza Friday, trading fire with gunmen in clashes that killed seven Palestinians including a 12-year-old boy, Palestinians said.

The deaths drove the Palestinian death toll to 13 in Israeli strikes retaliating for a militant attack that killed two Israeli civilians at a vital Gaza fuel depot Wednesday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pledged to keep hitting Hamas so that it cannot “continue to operate against Israeli civilians as it does.”

There were no signs, however, of any impending major ground offensive by Israel.

Israeli aircraft killed two Hamas militants in a strike on southern Gaza early Friday, the group said. The Israeli military confirmed the attack, saying it targeted gunmen near the Gaza-Israel border fence.

Israeli troops crossed into central Gaza and clashed with gunmen in the area. A 12-year old boy was fatally shot in the stomach and six other Palestinians were wounded, medics said.

Later in the day Israeli forces fired at a group of Palestinian militants operating near a farm in central Gaza, killing four people and wounding several, including children, witnesses and doctors said. It was not immediately clear how many of the casualties were gunmen and how many were bystanders.

The army confirmed troops were operating in Gaza, and that aircraft had struck, but said it did not know anything about the death of the boy.

The brazen daylight attack on the Nahal Oz terminal between Gaza and Israel killed two civilian workers and prompted Israel to close the facility, which supplies all the fuel for Gaza’s 1.4 million residents.

Israeli officials indicated the cutoff would not last past the weekend. An earlier Israeli plan to cut back fuel shipments in response to rocket attacks by Gaza militants was shelved under international pressure.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since June, 2007, when its militants routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas now heads a Western-backed government based in the West Bank and is holding peace talks with Israel.

Hamas has continued attacking Israeli forces along the border and firing rockets at Israeli towns, and allows Gaza’s other militant factions to do the same. It has also threatened to breach the borders with Israel and Egypt if the closure continued and is planning popular rallies around the territory.

Israel and the Abbas government blame Hamas for the fuel crisis in Gaza, charging that it seizes large amounts of fuel for its own use.

Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner said that Hamas takes about half of the fuel supplied to Gaza, and uses it for vehicles launching rockets at Israel.

The Hamas government says it takes about half of the reduced fuel supply for hospitals and local services. Olmert also said Thursday that Israel “will continue to hold serious and responsible negotiations that can lead us to agreements” with Palestinian moderates.

Olmert and Abbas have said they hope to reach an agreement by the end of this year and there were no signs that the latest round of bloodshed would derail talks.

All the fuel Gaza’s 1.4 million residents need for transportation, cooking and generating electricity is sent from Israel through Nahal Oz. Wednesday’s killings drew charges that Islamic extremists were trying to provoke another round of violence with Israel, while putting Israel in the position of appearing to cause a humanitarian crisis.

Israel ceased fuel shipments into Gaza following Wednesday’s attack, but Israeli officials indicated the cutoff would not last past the weekend. An earlier Israeli plan to cut back fuel shipments in response to rocket attacks by Gaza militants was shelved under international pressure.

Both Israel and the Abbas government blame Hamas for the fuel crisis in Gaza, charging that it seizes large amounts of fuel for its own use.

Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner said that Hamas takes about half of the fuel supplied to Gaza, and uses it for vehicles launching rockets at Israel.

Mujahid Salameh, an official in the West Bank-based Petroleum Agency, said Hamas last month appropriated about 500,000 liters (132,000 gallons), or about one-fifth of the total fuel delivered to the territory.

Hamas government says it takes fuel for hospitals and local services.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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