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Violence flares in Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM – Clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian guerrillas flared in the Gaza Strip through much of the day Friday, while an agreement on a coalition government appeared to move forward Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops and Jewish settlers from the Palestinian-populated enclave.

Before dawn, Israeli troops and armored vehicles pushed into the town of Khan Younis in southern Gaza in what the military described as a response to repeated missile and mortar attacks during the past week. During sporadic fighting, at least eight Palestinians were killed and 24 wounded, according to Palestinian medical workers, while hundreds fled their homes.

The slain Palestinians included at least four members of armed groups, the medical sources said, and a 16-year-old boy. An Israeli military spokeswoman said Israeli troops reported firing on 15 gunmen but that the number of casualties was not known.

One Israeli soldier was wounded in the fighting.

On Friday night, Israeli military aircraft fired at targets at both ends of Gaza. In Tel Sultan, a district in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, an air strike was directed at a building that was being used to conceal tunneling by weapons smugglers, a military spokeswoman said. In Gaza City to the north, aircraft attacked two buildings associated with production of missiles and other munitions by the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, the spokeswoman said.

After a period of relative calm, fighting in Gaza has been more intense in recent days. The military spokeswoman said more than 30 mortar shells, rockets and other projectiles had been fired on Israeli army bases there over the past week. One attack Thursday night wounded 11 soldiers. A mortar attack on a Jewish settlement the previous day killed a Thai laborer.


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