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Israeli army poised to step up Gaza offensive

Written by: Staff
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GAZA, June 29 (Reuters) Israel launched air strikes and its tanks encroached on a second front in Gaza while warning of further military action today in efforts to coerce militants into returning a kidnapped soldier.

A Palestinian security officer said he saw several Israeli tanks roll into northern Gaza before dawn. His account was disputed by an Israeli military spokeswoman who said troops were not yet deployed to launch operations in the area.

Hundreds of masked Palestinian gunmen wielding automatic rifles and anti-tank weapons prepared for confrontation with Israel by taking up positions in streets and narrow alleyways of Gaza, while home-made landmines were planted along roads to combat Israeli armoured vehicles.

Adding to the rising tensions in the region, Israeli soldiers in the West Bank seized several members of the ruling Palestinian party Hamas and recovered a body they suspect is that of a teenaged settler who went missing earlier this week.

Israeli security sources said the army notified the family of Eliyahu Asheri that they suspect they may have found the 18-year-old settler's body outside the West Bank city of Ramallah. Asheri has been missing since Sunday.

Army Radio reported the Palestinian militant group the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) said they killed Asheri.

The PRC said earlier this week they had abducted the settler and threatened to kill him. A second Palestinian group has also said it has abducted an Israeli.

Israeli troops in the West Bank seized more than 30 Palestinian officials of the ruling Hamas party in overnight raids designed to ramp up pressure on the militant gunmen who kidnapped 19-year-old Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit during a cross-border raid on Sunday.

MORE REUTERS SY VC1015

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