The Israeli military killed seven Palestinians as fierce fighting erupted yesterday after ground troops backed by air power pushed into the Gaza Strip, stepping up pressure on the Hamas-run enclave.
Israeli troops and tanks pushed across the border into the central Gaza Strip to the outskirts of the Mughazi refugee camp, where they became locked in heavy firefights with Palestinian militants, medical sources and the army said.
The military called in two air strikes during fighting that left seven Palestinians dead, six of them fighters in Hamas' armed wing, including local militant leader Mohammed Siam, medics said.
More than 25 Palestinians were wounded, including two seriously, in the heavy clashes about 1km into Gaza, from which Israel withdrew all troops and settlers in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.
A cameraman working under fire for Hamas' Al-Aqsa television had both legs amputated. Imad Ghanem, 23, was first hit by a shell in the legs and then by two bullets fired into his crumpled body as it lay on the ground, medics said.
The military said the troops and tanks were "operating against terror infrastructure" in the central Gaza Strip and that it was investigating the circumstances of the incident in which the cameraman was shot.
"We identified hitting approximately 10 armed gunmen in two air strikes and in exchanges of fire on the ground. Two [Israeli]soldiers were wounded by an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fired at a bulldozer in the central Gaza Strip and were evacuated," an army spokesman said.
An Israeli military source said that Hamas television cameramen "cannot be considered as journalists, as they are part of Hamas' armed wing and their films are used for propaganda and intelligence purposes."
Witnesses said Israeli troops were also operating in northern Gaza on the outskirts of Beit Hanun, where two militants were wounded overnight. The army said the two were attempting to fire rockets at Israel.
Although Israel has vowed to bolster Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his new Western-backed emergency government based in the occupied West Bank, it has sworn to continue attacks on militants.
Abbas sacked a Hamas-led unity government in the crisis that saw the Islamists seize control of Gaza on June 15 in a deadly takeover that humiliated the mainstream security services loyal to the president's Fatah party.