Four Palestinians killed in Gaza violence


Israel has widened its offensive in the Gaza Strip, killing a Palestinian civilian in southern Gaza and three alleged militants in the north.

The Gaza operation, aimed at recovering a captured soldier and stopping armed groups from firing makeshift rockets, has piled pressure on the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which demands a prisoner swap for the seized Israeli corporal.

Israeli troops had pulled out of the northern Gaza Strip a week earlier after a major raid into the territory, which Israel abandoned in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers, backed by helicopters firing machine guns, moved into farmland near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, an area it claims militants use to fire rockets.

Five Palestinians were wounded when Israel shelled the area and claimed the deaths of three Palestinian fighters in an air strike.

About 10 other Palestinians were wounded in the air attack and in other air raids. Israel claimed it had opened fire on a group of men seen carrying an anti-tank grenade launcher. 

The Israeli military has killed more than 85 Palestinians in Gaza - most of whom where civilians since Palestinian fighters took Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit prisoner in a raid last month.

Hamas, which controls the Palestinian government after winning a January election, demands Israel free Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Israel has rejected this.

In southern Gaza, parts of which Israeli forces raided after the abduction, the army killed a Palestinian woman in her home, medics said. Palestinian witnesses said an Israeli tank shell landed near her house, sending shrapnel flying inside.