Israeli Airstrikes Kill 10 Palestinians in Gaza

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at Palestinian militants on Wednesday, killing 10 Palestinians, including at least eight gunmen and a little girl, as Israel pressed ahead with its Gaza offensive alongside fighting in Lebanon.

The fighting, which also wounded more than three dozen Palestinians, began before dawn when about 50 Israeli tanks and bulldozers drove into northern Gaza, near the border with Israel, flattening orchards and greenhouses to deprive militants firing rockets of cover. Troops also took over rooftops of several houses, residents said.

As the tanks moved forward, the military said aircraft targeted three groups of militants who were approaching the troops. Exchanges of fire were reported throughout the night. Hamas said it destroyed three army vehicles. Israeli aircraft carried out a total of eight airstrikes in the area overnight, security and medics said.

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In a new tactic, aircraft also blasted several houses of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists after warning people to leave. Homeowners said they received phone calls from people in broken Arabic telling them to get out.

Eight of the 10 killed Wednesday were militants, including five from Hamas and three from Islamic Jihad, spokesmen of the groups said. A girl believed to be younger than 10 was also among the dead, but doctors said they had not yet been able to identify her or give her exact age. The body of another man could not immediately be identified, medics said.

Thirty-eight people were hurt, 17 of them in critical condition, including Ibrahim Al-Atla, 25, a cameraman for the Palestine Broadcasting Corp., who was hit with shrapnel in the back, said Dr. Joma Saka, a spokesman for Gaza City's Shifa Hospital.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas militants tunneled under the border on June 25 and attacked an Israeli army post at a Gaza crossing, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. Israeli ground forces have raided several parts of Gaza, searching for militants and weapons, as artillery pounds the area and aircraft carry out attacks.

The Gaza offensive has continued despite the flare-up on Israel's northern border, after Hezbollah guerrillas killed three soldiers and captured two on July 12, setting off a large-scale Israeli air and ground operation against the Lebanese guerrillas.

On Tuesday, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and his father and sister wounded near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Palestinians blamed Israeli gunfire, but Israel denied that.

The army said the only shooting incident at that time was near the Kissufim crossing five kilometers (three miles) away, when troops fired at a group of people after they set off an explosive device next to the border. However, they did not hit them, the army said.

Hospital officials said the boy, his 16-year-old sister and their father were shot after they stumbled on an undercover army unit. The military said no Israeli forces were operating in the Khan Younis area.

Also Tuesday a number of Israeli tanks and bulldozers crossed the border into Gaza into the Abassan region near Khan Younis, witnesses said.

Just before the force entered, an Israeli helicopter dropped leaflets warning residents to stay indoors because the army was carrying out an operation against cells firing rockets into Israel, witnesses said.

In another tactic, the Palestinian phone company said more than 1,000 residents of Khan Younis received recorded messages from Israel, warning them not to hide weapons or shield militants. The residents were apparently picked at random, phone company officials said.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank about 20 Israeli jeeps entered the city of Ramallah on Tuesday night and surrounded a building there, Palestinian security officials said.

The officials said the Israeli army had warned Palestinian security officials to keep their patrols off the streets because an operation to arrest wanted militants was underway.

The army confirmed that it was conducting an operation in Ramallah.