An Israeli military spokesman confirmed today that a "major operation" was under way in the northern Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun, and didn't say when it would be over.
The Israeli army seized the town, and carried out three air strikes in the area, he said, adding that "20 Palestinians have been hit" during the offensive, which is continuing.
The spokesman also claimed that the massive offensive is aimed at stopping rocket fire into Israel, adding that it's one of the army's largest military campaigns since operation Summer Rain, which was said to be aimed at releasing Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian resistance fighters on June 25.
He didn't say how many troops were involved in the operation, but witnesses said hundreds of Israeli troops, backed by tanks, entered Beit Hanoun over night, amid heavy exchanges of fire.
Palestinian witnesses also said that dozens of Israeli armored vehicles massed at the border with Gaza on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
An army spokesman also ordered Palestinian residents to evacuate Rafah's border with Egypt, witnesses said, adding that several Israeli naval boats moved closer to the Gaza coast.
Israel sends its troops periodically to Rafah, claiming that Palestinian fighters are smuggling arms into Gaza.
Also Tuesday, Israeli occupation forces killed three Palestinian fighters in a gun battle in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, medics said.
Israeli security officials are expected to meet later Wednesday to discuss expanding operations in the Gaza Strip, the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
Earlier this week, Olmert vowed to expand military assaults against Hamas fighters in Gaza.
He told a meeting of the Israeli parliament that Israel "has to act and will act against Hamas fire in Gaza."
On Monday, a top Israeli army officer claimed that 300 Hamas fighters have been killed by Israeli occupation forces over the past three months.
The Israeli military has carried out several offensives in Gaza since Shalit's capture in late June, killing more than 300 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, about half of them civilians.
Wednesday's attacks came amid reports of progress on a possible prisoner exchange involving the release of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails in return for Shalit.
A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian officials on a possible prisoner exchange.
Egypt has been acting as a mediator since Shalit's capture.
Source: Al Jazeera MagazineLast Mod: 00 0000, 00:00