Six Palestinian gunmen were killed on Thursday in exchanges of fire with IDF forces operating in central Gaza. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one seriously and three lightly, after an RPG struck the structure they were taking cover in. The wounded were treated at the scene and evacuated to a hospital for further treatment.
Israeli infantry and armored troops were in the area east of the Maghazi refugee camp conducting a routine operation against militants who fire rockets and mortar rounds at southern Israel, try to infiltrate into Israel, and plant bombs aimed at troops, the military said. Palestinian sources say the dead militants were members of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees.
Reuters soundman Nihad Odehtallah was shot in the leg while covering the clashes, and was taken to an Israeli hospital. His wounds were not life-threatening, and it was not clear whether Odehtallah was wounded by Israeli or Palestinian fire, the London-based news agency said.
"Several days ago we struck from the air, today we are fighting on the ground. This is the day-to-day reality in Gaza and when the goal is to thwart terror attacks inside Israel, we use every defensive means necessary," said a military official.
Despite the intensive operation, Palestinian terror groups still managed to fire Qassam rockets at Israel. One rocket landed near a school in Sderot. No injuries were reported, though damage was caused to buildings in the area. Eighteen people, most of them schoolchildren, were treated for shock after the rocket struck.
''Israel will continue with its efforts to stop these rocket attacks and prevent the same type of tragedy that nearly occurred today,'' said Israeli government spokesman David Baker.
A potential truce?
Thursday's violence came a day after Israel's government rejected a feeler from Hamas for a truce that would see Palestinian militants end their rocket fire from Gaza in return for a halt to Israeli military operations.
The offer, made by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh through an Israeli TV reporter, followed the deaths of 12 Palestinian militants in a series of Israeli airstrikes earlier this week.
Ten of the dead were from Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for most of the rocket fire from Gaza. Two were from Hamas.
Responding to Haniyeh's offer, a spokesman for Olmert said Israel would not deal with Hamas unless it accepts three international conditions: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past peace accords. Hamas has always refused to do that.
Haim Ramon, Israel's deputy premier, said Thursday that Haniyeh's overture was proof that Israel's strategy of blockading Gaza and battling militants there is working.
''All of these ... comments, and the messages coming in all kinds of strange ways, all of these things are a kind of smokescreen that just shows that Israel's recent policy toward Palestinian terror is bearing fruit,'' Ramon told Army Radio. If Palestinians stopped firing rockets into Israel, Israel would have no reason to attack, Ramon said.
News agencies contributred to this report