Soldier lightly wounded in clashes; 100 Palestinians taken for questioning.
By JOSH BRANNON, JPOST.COM STAFF
IDF troops returned safely from Gaza to Israel shortly after midnight Wednesday after a day of fierce clashes left 13 Palestinians dead.
Approximately 100 Palestinians were detained and transferred to Israel for questioning and troops confiscated eight light firearms, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher, cartridges, observation equipment and communications devices.
The raid began early Tuesday morning when infantry, backed by tanks and aircraft, raided a village in the southern Gaza Strip early. Islamic Jihad said six of its members were killed by an IAF strike in Khan Yunis, and Hamas said two of its gunmen were killed in battles with IDF ground troops. A third Hamas gunman was reportedly killed by an air strike late Tuesday evening.
A soldier was lightly wounded in the heavy exchanges of gunfire that lasted throughout the day. He was evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba for treatment.
Palestinian hospital officials reported two civilians were killed in the fighting, including the 70-year-old mother of one of the Hamas fatalities. The medical officials said that at least eight gunmen and seven civilians were wounded. Two more gunmen died in the combat, according to witnesses.
Soldiers who took part in Tuesday's fighting reportedly said Hamas's gunmen were better armed than in the past and were equipped with radios, and seemed to operate according to a distinctive command hierarchy, using tactics that reminded the IDF soldiers of methods used by Hizbullah.
The IDF withdrew from the area under the cover of darkness, bringing a day of pitched battles to an end.
Separately, four Gazans succeeded in infiltrating into Israel on Tuesday morning, the second such incident in as many days. After extensive searches, the four suspects were apprehended and were being questioned by security forces.
In the raid east of Khan Yunis, soldiers searched numerous homes, finding explosive belts and ammunition, as well as several antitank missiles and explosives primed with detonators, Army Radio reported. All local males above the age of 16 were rounded up and questioned, according to the report. Some will be released while rest will be arrested and brought to Israel for further interrogation.
The IAF confirmed hits on four different groups of men armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers who approached the area where soldiers were conducting the arrest raids, IDF officials said. Palestinian witnesses told Arab media outlets that Israeli sniper and tank machine-gun fire was targeting gunmen and medical personnel who were attempting to reach the village from Khan Yunis to the west.
IDF officials said the "pinpoint" incursion was the latest in a string of operations meant to "negate terror threats in the area." An IDF representative said soldiers entered the area to search for a network of tunnels and to strike at the terrorist organizations ability to fire Kassam rockets and mortar shells.
An official in the Southern Command said troops witnessed instances during Tuesday's fighting in which Palestinian gunmen used civilians as human shields.
"We regret the injuries to civilians. We have no desire to harm innocent individuals," the officials said. "It is the terrorists who were responsible for their cynical use of civilians as cover."
Meanwhile, a Kassam rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip damaged a greenhouse in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon. Two more rockets landed near the central Gaza security fence in the evening without causing damage, the IDF confirmed. No injuries from those attacks were reported.
A military source said the terrorists might step up their efforts to fire rockets, as they have done during previous IDF incursions into the coastal strip.
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