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 airstrikes and other attacks, medics said.
Some of the heaviest fighting took place around the Maghazi refugee camp.
“We have a forgotten war in Gaza and the West Bank,” said Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat. “The presidential compound in Nablus was destroyed. We urge the international community to offer direct intervention to stop this Israeli military escalation.”
110 Palestinians killed since kidnap
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 Cpl. Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid on June 25.
Israel has killed about 110 Palestinians, about 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 said.
Israeli bulldozers then tore down a building there used by the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
Children wounded in attacks
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 Hezbollah 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 borders.
Both Hezbollah 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.