GAZA – Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians during clashes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, said hospital staff, keeping up pressure on the Hamas-ruled territory after a cross-border rocket attack killed an Israeli civilian.
A total of 45 Palestinians have been killed in four days of Israeli raids and air strikes in the Gaza Strip that the Jewish state launched after the killing of the Israeli on Wednesday.
Most of the dead have been militants but some civilians, including children, have been killed.
Witnesses said clashes erupted on Saturday when Palestinian gunmen spotted an Israeli force backed by helicopters that had entered the coastal territory.
Six militants and four civilians were killed and at least 30 people were wounded, said hospital staff and the Islamist Hamas movement, which seized control of Gaza last June by routing the secular forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli army said it was checking on reports of the clashes.
Israeli leaders have said they may have no choice but to launch a broader offensive in the Gaza Strip if Palestinian militants do not stop rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
On Friday, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai warned Gazans they risked a “shoah” if rocket fire did not end, but aides said he used the Hebrew word not in its common meaning of holocaust but only as a term for disaster.
The strength of his language, however, reflected mounting anger after the killing of the Israeli civilian on Wednesday.
The United States, whose Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas next week, urged Israel to “consider the consequences” of its action. Abbas holds sway now only in the occupied West Bank.
More bloodshed could derail Washington’s hopes of a peace deal this year before President George W. Bush steps down.
There has been international support for Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies who deny the Jewish state’s right to exist. But there have also been calls for restraint.
Hamas officials said there had been an “international silence” over the “massacre”, including from fellow Arabs.
Abbas, who has shared Israel’s hostility to Hamas since the Islamist movement defeated his forces in Gaza, called Israeli threats “dangerous”.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation.
Though rocket fire has long disrupted life in southern Israeli towns, the killing of the Israeli on Wednesday — the first death of its kind since May — has put pressure on Olmert to increase military action.
Hamas has said the rocket attacks were a response to Israeli raids into Gaza and the West Bank.