July 19, 2006

Israel kills 15 Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli troops killed 15 Palestinians in
clashes in Gaza and the occupied West Bank on Wednesday in one
of the worst days of violence since Israel launched an
offensive to free an abducted soldier.

Fighting erupted between Israeli troops and militants in
central Gaza after the army pushed into the strip, killing 10
Palestinians -- five militants and five civilians -- in air
strikes and other attacks, medics said.

Some of the heaviest fighting took place around the Maghazi
refugee camp.

Four of the dead militants were from the governing Islamist
Hamas movement. Gunmen from the faction, which is sworn to
Israel's destruction, and two other groups captured Israeli
army Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid on June 25.

Israel has killed about 110 Palestinians, around half of
them militants, in Gaza since the abduction and vowed to
continue its three-week offensive until the soldier is freed
and gunmen stop firing rockets into Israel.

It has refused Hamas demands that it free Palestinian
prisoners in return for Shalit, a 19-year-old tank gunner.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops backed by armored vehicles
surrounded a Palestinian security compound in the city of
Nablus and killed three gunmen from moderate President Mahmoud
Abbas's Fatah faction, medics said.

Two civilians were also killed, medics said. The army said
troops had confronted civilians who had thrown stones at them
as well as gunmen, but that soldiers had only fired at
Palestinians who shot at them.

Troops also detained several Palestinian security men
during the operation in Nablus, an Israeli military source

Israeli bulldozers then tore down a building there used by
the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.

About 60 Palestinians, including 10 children, were also
wounded in the clashes in densely populated central Gaza on
Wednesday, medics said. Gaza is home to 1.4 million people.

Israel has bombed numerous buildings in Gaza used by Hamas
and the government it leads, including the office of Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

It has also knocked out bridges, roads and a power plant in
Gaza as well as making regular ground incursions.

Because of the violence, Washington has stepped up the
evacuation of Americans from Gaza. Officials said 68 U.S.
nationals were pulled out of the strip on July 8 and another
104 on Wednesday.

Israel is also fighting Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon
after they abducted two soldiers in a cross-border raid last
week and killed eight others.

Israel has said it will keep fighting on both fronts until
it gets its soldiers back and removes the threat on its

Both Hizbollah and Palestinian militants have continued to
fire rockets into Israel, though the Lebanese guerrillas have
far more powerful and longer-range rockets than the homemade
missiles used by militants in Gaza.

Israel pulled troops and Jewish settlers out of Gaza last
year after 38 years of occupation.