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Report: 14-year-old girl killed in Gaza clashes

A 14-year-old girl was killed Saturday as Israeli forces seized a local Hamas leader from his Gaza home amid heavy fighting with Palestinian gunmen, Hamas militants and a  health official said.
Supporters of Hamas chant slogans at a protest in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday calling on Egypt to re-open the border and Israel to end its economic blockade. Khalil Hamra / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 14-year-old girl was killed Saturday as Israeli forces seized a local Hamas leader from his Gaza home amid heavy fighting with Palestinian gunmen, Hamas militants and a health official said.

The clashes erupted in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, near the border with Israel. The army confirmed the raid, saying its forces exchanged fire with Palestinian militants. The wanted man's 14-year-old daughter was killed.

Despite the renewed violence, Egypt is making another attempt to broker a truce between Hamas and Israel. The deal would also include a prisoner swap and the opening of Gaza border crossings; the territory has been virtually sealed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas' violent takeover last June.

Israel is to respond in coming days to Hamas' latest proposal, which includes a six-month truce. Hamas' Gaza strongman, Mahmoud Zahar, said that if Israel rejects the deal, "all options are open." He issued the implied threat of more violence in a televised statement Friday, after he returned from talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

'Zero-sum game'
Israel is skeptical of the offer. On Saturday, a former deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, said the government should not accept a truce with Hamas.

He said anything that prolongs Hamas rule in Gaza, including a cease-fire, runs counter Israel's interest. "There is a zero-sum game between us and Hamas," Sneh told Israel Radio, adding that he believes Israel will eventually have to try to oust the Islamic militants by force.

Sneh is a legislator from Israel's Labor Party, which is headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The military has said it would continue pursuing Hamas militants as long as they threaten Israeli civilians. Hamas and other militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli border towns in recent years.

The apparent target of the Israeli raid in northern Gaza on Saturday was Talat Hassan Marouf, a local Hamas leader. The fighting took place around his house, and Israeli forces withdrew after detaining him, said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing.

The military said Israeli troops came under fire from inside the house, where Marouf's family was at the time.

His 14-year old daughter, Mariam, was killed by shrapnel from heavy machine guns, said Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official. Her mother was injured in the clashes.

Nine other Palestinians, including seven gunmen, were also wounded in the fighting, said Hassanain. Three of the gunmen were in critical condition, he said.

An army official said the family asked to be evacuated and was eventually permitted to do so by Israeli troops. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army regulations, couldn't say if this was before or after the girl was killed.

The wanted Hamas member then turned himself in, the army official said.

Abu Obeida, who had given the initial account of the fighting, was not immediately available to comment on the details provided by the military.

Undercover force
The fighting began before dawn when an Israeli undercover force entered an area of northern Gaza near the border with Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants fired at the force, using machine guns, mortars and homemade bombs, Hamas militants said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were close to the fighting and feared possible retribution from Israel.

A dozen of Israeli tanks and aircraft provided cover during the clashes, the army said. It said its aircraft launched two missile strikes against the militants.

The sound of explosions could be heard across northern Gaza.