At least seven Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed in gun battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. The fighting erupted after the Israeli army launched a raid shortly before dawn on Wednesday on the northern city of Beit Hanoun. The defence ministry said the aim was to stop rockets from being fired over the border.
It is the largest raid since the start of an Israeli offensive following the kidnapping of a soldier in June. Nearly 280 Palestinians have been killed – more than half of them civilians. Israeli tanks also gathered at the southern border with Gaza where Palestinian militants are thought to be using tunnels to pass weapons.
Defence minister Amir Peretz said there was no doubt the military operation was necessary, adding that solving the kidnapping affair would open the way to talks which was what all sides wanted. But the operation was denounced as “despicable” by moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and branded a “massacre” by Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh.
He said it came as a result of far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman being part of the Israeli government. The controversial politician joined the cabinet this week as minister of strategic affairs.
His nomination has caused deep concern among moderate Israelis. Lieberman advocates the expulsion from Israel of some of the country’s Arab citizens.