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Friday, August 4, 2006 - Page updated at 01:06 AM

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Deaths rise as Israeli tanks push into Gaza

Los Angeles Times

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli tanks and bulldozers pushed deep into the southern end of the Gaza Strip early Thursday in an incursion that left eight Palestinians dead, half of them militant fighters.

Backed by helicopters and missile-armed drone aircraft, about 50 tanks and bulldozers entered the strip at dawn Thursday near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, witnesses said.

The tanks moved about five miles into Gaza, taking up positions near the long-shuttered Gaza International Airport and cutting off the main highway connecting Rafah with the rest of the Gaza Strip.

A series of airstrikes and tank attacks killed eight, including a 12-year-old boy, and wounded at least 26 Palestinians, said Ali Moussa, director of Rafah's Abu Youssef Al Najar Hospital.

The tanks remained in position late Thursday, their crews combing the area for tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt, an Israeli army spokeswoman said.

The violence continued today as two more Palestinians were killed, hospital officials said, apparently by a tank shell fired at their house. Another Palestinian was targeted by an Israeli airstrike and killed, officials said.

The Rafah area is riddled with tunnels linking Gaza with the Egyptian border town of Rafah. Israeli officials have long accused the Egyptian government of turning a blind eye to the weapons flow.

On June 25, Gaza fighters used a similar tunnel to stage a cross-border ambush that killed two Israeli soldiers and captured a third.

Israeli closed the Rafah crossing, and staged regular airstrikes, tank offensives and artillery bombardments that have killed more than 150 people in Gaza.

Among Thursday's casualties were two members each from the armed wings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, officials said. Anis Abu Awad, 12, was killed by a tank shell, hospital officials said.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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