GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli forces widened their four-day-old offensive in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing five Palestinian fighters and three civilians including a 13-year-old girl hit by a sniper’s bullet fired into her home.
Moving five miles south of their initial targets in the town of Beit Hanoun, Israeli troops and tanks fought for four hours against gunmen near Jabalya. Four men from the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamic movement that governs the Palestinian territories, were killed in the battle, Palestinian officials said.
Louay Borno, identified by Hamas as one of its leading rocket makers, died in an airstrike aimed at his minivan near Gaza City.
At least 32 Palestinian combatants, 11 Palestinian civilians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since the Israeli army crossed into Gaza on Wednesday and seized Beit Hanoun.
Israeli officials say they are trying to root out stockpiles of crude Kassam rockets and the men who fire them almost daily into southern Israel, largely from the town just across the border. The operation has widened across northern Gaza as Palestinian rocket-launching teams and other fighters flee the besieged town and continue to fire rockets.
On Friday, as many as 73 fighters holed up in a mosque there managed to escape an Israeli encirclement with the help of about 200 women who swarmed past troops and tanks to serve as human shields.
On Saturday, an Israeli tank in the town destroyed the home of a senior militant who had left. The shelling knocked down a wall of a neighboring house, killing Marwan abu Harbid, a 48-year-old father of seven who was playing cards with his cousin, relatives said.
Palestinian medical workers said a sniper’s bullet fired into another home in Beit Hanoun after dark struck Walla Nasir, 13, in the head.
The Israeli military expressed regret, saying the sniper was aiming at a Palestinian fighter and killed the girl by mistake.
A 24-year-old noncombatant wounded Friday in an airstrike on nearby Beit Lahiya died Saturday, Palestinian hospital workers said.
Israel has come under international criticism for the operation, which has subjected homes to searches or demolition, forced most of Beit Hanoun’s 37,000 people to stay indoors, and obliged nearly every unarmed male resident of the town to undergo interrogation at a soccer field. Most of the detainees have been released.