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Israeli forces launch raids in Gaza - residents

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Nov 21 (Reuters) Israeli troops and tanks pushed deep into the Gaza Strip in two separate raids today, clashing with Palestinian gunmen in Gaza City, local residents and witnesses said.

A column of about 30 tanks penetrated the heart of Gaza City and entered the Zeitoun district, a known militant stronghold, they said.

Residents said there were no reports of any casualties in what appeared to be the most intensive Israeli ground force raid into Gaza City since Israel launched an offensive in June after militants captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid.

A smaller force raided Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, an area more frequently targeted by Israeli forces in their attempts to stop militants from firing rockets into the Jewish state.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed ground troops were operating in the Gaza Strip but gave no further details.

Israel has killed more than 320 Palestinians in Gaza, about half of them civilians, since it began its offensive.

Israel has increased raids in northern Gaza since a Palestinian rocket strike last Wednesday killed an Israeli woman and seriously wounded a man in the town of Sderot.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz today said Israel would carry on fighting militants who fired rockets into Israel from Gaza but there were no plans to reoccupy the coastal territory the Jewish state quit last year.

''I emphasise that our hand is outstretched in peace, but anybody who rejects it ... should know that ... we will do all we can to sever the hand which uses terror,'' Peretz said in a speech carried by Israeli radio.

''We have no intention of making concessions to anybody, we have no intention of being dragged in to reoccupying Gaza, but we have every intention of protecting our citizens.'' Palestinian gunmen have stepped up rocket fire since Israel killed 19 civilians, including women and children, in a November 8 artillery shelling of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

Israel apologised for the shelling, which it blamed on a technical failure, but said it was in response to the Palestinian rocket fire.

Yesterday, an Israeli missile struck a car in Gaza City killing both its occupants.

The ruling Hamas group identified the two men as local commanders of the Islamist movement. Four people, including two children, were wounded.

Reuters SB VV0933

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