GAZA CITY: Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought their first major battles in Gaza City with tanks and assault helicopters launching a night-time offensive.
Residents reported explosions and heavy machine gun fire rocking the Shejaiya neighbourhood of the enclave’s capital in the heaviest fighting yet of Israel’s campaign to halt Hamas rocket attacks.
Hamas said in a statement that its fighters had fired missiles at seven tanks in the same district and that 10 Israeli soldiers were killed. The Israeli army did not comment on the claim though it confirmed there was heavy fighting.
The Islamic Jihad group, an ally of Hamas, said several of its fighters were killed in the battle.
At least 12 children were among 50 bodies taken to Gaza hospitals after air and tank attacks across the territory, medics said. Almost 100 children are among the 555 Palestinians killed since Israel started air raids on Dec 27, Gaza’s emergency services said. More than 2,700 people have been wounded.
Israeli fighter jets carried out more than 40 air strikes during the day. The military said they hit a mosque “where arms were being stored” as well as houses and tunnels that they said were used as arms caches.
Naval ships off the coast also bombarded targets to help the ground offensive.
A couple and their five children were killed by one navy shell, medics said. Three children were killed by a tank shell in Zeitun in the Gaza City suburbs and two were killed in Shati by a naval strike, they said.
Israel says dozens of Hamas fighters have been killed while one Israeli soldier has been reported dead and 55 wounded since Saturday. Three civilians and one soldier have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza since Israel’s operation started.
More than 30 rocket and missile attacks were reported yesterday. One hit a kindergarten which was closed because of the crisis.
Flares lit up the skies over the blacked-out neighbourhood as assault helicopters buzzed overhead firing heavy machine guns at dozens of fighters for the Hamas military wing, residents said.
There were also clashes in the nearby Zeitoun district, an Islamic Jihad spokesman said. Israeli artillery had launched an artillery barrage on Palestinian positions in the two sectors before the attacks started. An Israeli military source said that the combat in Shejaiya and Zeitoun was very fierce.