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Clashes in southern Gaza as border heats up

Dec. 26, 2010 9:27 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 29, 2010 10:10 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Islamic Jihad’s military wing the Al-Quds Brigades said Sunday that two of its fighters were killed following what a statement described as "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces the southern district village of Khuza’a east of Khan Younis.

The group identified the slain men as Issa Abu Rok and Muhammad An-Najjar who were said to have been amongst several fighters involved in a gunbattle with Israeli forces.

"The fighters inflicted losses on occupation forces," the statement said, though no reports of injuries were made by Israel's military.

Islamic Jihad’s military wing, Al-Quds Brigades said two of their fighters were killed in clashes with Israeli forces on Sunday morning in the southern Gaza Strip village of Khuza’a east of Khan Younis.

Israeli reports said the fighters were attempting to lay explosives on the Gaza Strip border, while military officials explained that troops, later backed up by helicopters, identified a hit on a group of militants who had attacked the force.

"Soldiers opened fire on members of a terrorist cell which was trying to place an explosive charge in the immediate vicinity of the security barrier," that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

She said that after a similar incident a month ago in which there were no casualties, "soldiers received instructions not to hesitate to open fire when they saw terrorists placing booby-trap devices near the barrier."

Paramedics said the body of Abu Hijar was evacuated to the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, describing it as "torn," and reported having difficulties evacuating the second body, saying Israeli troops fired on the medical team as it tried to retrieve An-Najjar.

Eyewitnesses said they heard gunfire east of Khan Younis Sunday morning, with several saying they believed fighters had launched Rocket Propelled Grenades at Israeli forces.

In their statement, the Al-Quds Brigades said their fighters fired six RPGs and several mortar shells at Israeli force which entered the area.

Israeli political sources in Jerusalem said Saturday that Israel would respond strictly to any attempt to escalate violence in the Gaza Strip. They warned the coming confrontation would be tougher and shed more blood. “The situation in the south seems to be worsening rather than cooling down,” the sources said.

Israel's military said this week that one of its tanks patrolling the Gaza border had been hit by a Russian-made Kornet anti-tank rocket, the first time such a weapon had been encountered there.

At least 23 mortars and four rockets have been launched at Israel from Gaza in the past week, the army said. One of the rockets struck near a kindergarten in a southern Israeli kibbutz, wounding a teenage girl.

On December 18, Israeli warplanes hit central Gaza, killing five militants as they were about to launch a rocket attack, according to the army and witnesses.

While most of the rockets fired have been by other groups, Israel still says it holds Hamas, which rules the strip, responsible for maintaining calm there.

AFP contributed to this report
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