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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israeli Tanks, Helicopters Attack Gaza

GAZA STRIP -- Israeli troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, killed eight Palestinians on Wednesday in one of the military's largest strikes against militants since re-entering the Gaza Strip four months ago.

An Israeli soldier also was killed in the operation in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which the army described as a major staging ground for rocket attacks on Israel. Israeli officials suggested the operation would last days, and did not represent a widening of the overall Israeli campaign in Gaza.

Infantry, tanks and aircraft pummeled Beit Hanoun, beginning before dawn.

At least six of the dead were militants, and the other two was not immediately identified. In the latest incident, Palestinians said an Israeli aircraft fired a missile after sundown, killing one person and wounding another in Beit Hanoun. The military said the targets were two militants planting a bomb.

Palestinian hospital officials also reported at least 44 people were wounded Wednesday. Most were gunmen, but a woman and an 11-year-old boy were also hurt, they said. Dr. Jamil Suleiman, director of the Beit Hanoun hospital, said all of the hospital's blood supplies had been used up.

Israel, which evacuated Gaza in September 2005, reinvaded the coastal strip to try to recover a soldier captured in June by militants linked to the Palestinians' ruling Hamas party. The soldier remains in captivity, but the military has since broadened its objectives in Gaza to crush militants' rocket-launching capabilities and arms-smuggling tunnels.

Even as the offensive in Beit Hanoun continued, eight homemade rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in Israel, the army said. No one was seriously injured. The Hamas military wing said it had no intention of stopping the rocket attacks.

The army described Wednesday's operation as one of the largest in Gaza since the campaign began in late June.

Captain Avital Leibovitz, a military spokeswoman, said Beit Hanoun was targeted because 300 rockets had been fired from the town since the beginning of the year, out of a total of 800 launched from Gaza. She described the operation in Beit Hanoun as a pinpoint strike, and not a jumping-off point for a broader military campaign in Gaza.

Israel's Security Cabinet on Wednesday rejected proposals for a major escalation against rocket launchers and arms smuggling operations along the Egypt-Gaza border.