JERUSALEM – Israeli forces pushed into the outskirts of the largest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing five Palestinians in clashes, including a 9-year-old boy, in a widening operation to stop rocket attacks by militants in the area.
The Israeli armored thrust into the northern Gaza Strip, which began early Wednesday, came after homemade Qassam rockets were fired into southern Israel in retaliation for an Israeli strike on a Hamas training camp Tuesday that killed 14 of the group’s fighters.
Israeli troops in tanks and armored vehicles took up positions in and around the Jabaliya refugee camp and outside the neighboring towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun as bulldozers tore up roads to isolate the area. The army said soldiers had advanced to the first row of houses in Jabaliya, a sprawling warren of cinderblock dwellings with 100,000 inhabitants.
In scattered clashes, troops exchanged fire with gunmen, and teenagers hurled stones at tanks.
Helicopter gunships fired missiles at groups of gunmen in Jabaliya, the army said, and Palestinians reported that one militant was killed. A second man was killed by machine gun fire on the outskirts of the camp, residents said. It was unclear whether he was a civilian or a militant.
In a separate incident, witnesses reported that soldiers fired a tank-mounted machine gun toward a group of Palestinians that included stone-throwers, armed militants and bystanders. Three people were killed, including 9-year-old Munir al-Deqqes, who was hit in the chest while playing with friends outside his grandfather’s house, according to reports from the scene.
The army said that tank crews had fired “deterrent shots in the air” to scatter groups of Palestinians that included stone-throwers and gunmen. The military said it had no knowledge of a boy who was hit. Several armed militants were hit by helicopter fire and by troops on the ground, the army said.
Medics said that nearly 40 people, including militants and civilians, were wounded.
Palestinians reported that a medic was seriously wounded when an ambulance came under machine gun fire near Jabaliya. The army said that warning shots were fired in the air when the ambulance entered the military zone of operations and that after the vehicle was checked, it was allowed to proceed. The army said it had no reports of any casualties.
The top United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, condemned the killing and wounding of civilians in the Israeli operation.
The army said troops destroyed three lathes used to make Qassam rockets. Militants fired eight rockets into southern Israel on Wednesday and another on Thursday, the army said. At least one rocket landed in Sderot, a town near the border with the Gaza Strip that has been the target of many attacks.
Two deaths were reported Thursday in addition to those in and near Jabaliya. In the West Bank. A Palestinian was struck and killed by an Israeli army jeep apparently trying to escape a mob of stone-throwers near the Al-Amari refugee camp outside the town of Ramallah.
Earlier, a Palestinian man was shot to death as he approached the fence surrounding Gaza’s main Jewish settlement bloc.