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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fierce Gaza Clashes Leave 13 Dead

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen battled in two areas of the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, killing at least 13 Palestinians and wounding more than 50 people in one of the bloodiest days in Gaza in months.

The fiercest fighting took place in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City. Twelve people, including the son of a prominent Palestinian leader and a senior Hamas activist, were killed and more than 40 were wounded, Palestinian doctors said.

In a separate raid in the Rafah area along the Gaza-Egypt border, troops killed a Palestinian man as they searched for tunnels used for arms smuggling. The forces demolished three houses and razed citrus and olive groves.

The fighting in Gaza City erupted before dawn and continued for several hours. By early afternoon, the troops pulled out, the army and witnesses said.

During the fighting, dozens of boys stood in the streets watching the battle as gunfire whizzed by. Masked gunmen took up positions in front of a building and ordered civilians out of the area. At one point, a gunman picked up a young schoolboy by his backpack and whisked him out of the battle zone.

Later in the day, the army blew up the house of a Hamas militant who had been wounded and sent tanks into the neighborhood.

The dead Palestinians included nine militants, Palestinian sources said.

They included Mohammed Hilles, 18, the son of Ahmed Hilles, the top leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction in Gaza, and senior Hamas activist Hani Abu Sakhalin.

Hamas said Abu Sakhalin had survived two previous Israeli attempts to kill him, including a missile strike on his car last June in which he suffered shrapnel wounds.

Hamas, which called Abu Sakhalin "the great brave hero," said he had participated in several deadly attacks on Israelis, including a suicide bombing last month that killed four people at a border checkpoint.

At least nine of the wounded were in critical condition, doctors said. The wounded included at least three boys who were hit as they watched the battle from side streets, witnesses and doctors said.

When Abu Sakhalin's death was announced at a Gaza hospital, Hamas militants in camouflage uniforms waiting outside fired guns in the air and yelled "God is great" before jumping in a car to return to the fighting, witnesses said.

The group, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel over the past three years, vowed retaliation. In a statement, the group's militant wing called on all of its cells to carry out "huge martyrdom operations."