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Palestinians: Israelis move into southern Gaza

Israeli soldiers crossed into the Gaza Strip early Thursday and took up positions on rooftops in the southern Gaza border town of Abasan, Palestinian witnesses and security officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli forces crossed into the Gaza Strip early Thursday in a raid that captured a local Hamas militant leader and left his brother dead near a Gaza border town, Palestinians witnesses and officials said.

As the forces — backed by tanks and helicopter gunships — moved into the area of Abasan and took up positions on rooftops, militants began firing at them, sparking gunbattles that wounded two militants, Palestinian officials said.

Hamas officials identified the captured man as Younis Abu Daka, a local Hamas leader. His brother, Yousef, was killed in the fighting, the militant group said.

The army confirmed that a senior Hamas operative was arrested, and at least one militant was killed. It did not identify the men.

The violence came as Israel continued its offensive in the Gaza Strip, which it began June 28, three days after Hamas-linked militants tunneled into Israel, attacked an Israeli army post and captured a soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Israel said it would maintain its offensive until Shalit was released and militants ceased firing rockets into Israel.

The army has routinely carried out nighttime raids into Gaza since the offensive began.

Israel has killed more than 200 Palestinians — most of them militants — since the offensive began two months ago. Palestinian officials fear that Israel, after battling Hezbollah guerrillas to a stalemate in Lebanon, now turn its attention back on Gaza.

Late Wednesday, an Israeli tank fired a shell at two men who approached Gaza’s border fence with Israel near Abasan, according to Palestinian officials and the army.

Ambulance crews found one wounded person, an Islamic Jihad militant, in the area and were searching for others.

The army said soldiers identified two suspicious men crawling toward the border post, fired a tank shell at them.

Also Wednesday, a top Palestinian militant leader in the West Bank was shot in the head and seriously wounded, militants and hospital officials said.

Hospital officials said Hossam Jaradat, the West Bank leader of Islamic Jihad’s militant wing, was shot by Israeli soldiers in the Jenin refugee camp. But Islamic Jihad said they were not sure Israel was behind the shooting.

The Israeli army said it had no information on the report.