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Israeli forces in fierce clash with Gaza gunmen

Written by: Staff

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza, July 6 (Reuters) Fierce fighting broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya on Thursday after Israel sent tanks into the area to quell militant rocket fire.

Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships fired at militant positions inside the town. The gunmen responded with automatic weapons fire.

Ambulances raced to the scene, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israeli forces seized control of three former Jewish settlements in northern Gaza overnight, carving out a buffer zone after gunmen from the ruling Palestinian group Hamas fired rockets into a major Israeli city.

Beit Lahiya lies near the ruined settlements.

Tanks later moved inside the western part of the town, where they confronted gunmen from different factions, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the expansion of the Gaza offensive, which began last week with the main goal of bringing home a captured soldier, after makeshift ''Qassam'' rockets hit Ashkelon, 12 km (7 miles) inside Israel.

Reuters SK RN1335

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