GAZA CITY – Three Israeli soldiers and 14 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday as troops backed by assault helicopters stormed into the Gaza Strip and battled heavily armed Palestinians.
At least nine Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike on Al-Bureij refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, the head of Gaza emergency services. Another 17 people were wounded in the strike, he said.
Earlier in the day, clashes erupted after Palestinian fighters approached the security fence separating Gaza from Israel near the Nahal Oz fuel terminal which supplies most of Gaza’s fuel and which was attacked last week.
"Three soldiers were killed and three were wounded in an exchange of fire," an army spokeswoman said.
Hamas said it killed the soldiers in a "sophisticated ambush."
"This ambush is a message to let the Zionist enemy know that Gaza will remain a cauldron that will break its will and criminal plans," said Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Four members of the brigades were killed earlier by an Israeli unit backed by helicopters, Palestinian medics said. Six more were captured and taken back to Israel at dawn, the sources added.
In a separate incident, a soldier was wounded when Palestinian fighters opened fire from a mosque which was used "for storing a large amount of explosive substances and explosive devices," the military said in a statement.
Another Palestinian militant was killed in an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip that wounded three other people. The soldiers called in air attacks as Palestinian fighters fired mortar shells and anti-tank missiles, it said, adding that 10 fighters were hit.
The latest casualties bring to 406 the number of people killed since Israel and the Palestinians re-launched formal peace talks at a U.S. conference in November, according to an AFP count.
Wednesday’s clashes came one week after Palestinian gunmen killed two Israeli civilians who worked at the Nahal Oz terminal, which supplies all of Gaza’s fuel. Seven Palestinians were killed in the direct aftermath of the attack.
Israel halted all fuel deliveries to Gaza after the April 9 attack. A security official said the terminal reopened on Wednesday, several hours after the latest clashes, but only to transfer fuel for Gaza’s power plant.
The United Nations earlier called for larger quantities of fuel to be supplied and distributed in the impoverished territory, which is under a crippling Israeli embargo.
The U.N. agencies said that even before the attack on Nahal Oz, the amount of fuel delivered by Israel to Gaza was "inadequate to fulfill Gaza’s requirements."
The territory was receiving just 3.8 million liters of diesel and 340,000 liters of benzene, compared with more than 8.8 million liters and 1.7 million liters respectively a year previously.
Israel has sealed Gaza off from all but limited supplies of vital goods since Hamas seized power in June and says the measures are aimed at pressuring the Islamist movement to stop militants firing rockets at the Jewish state.
Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization and have criticized plans by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to meet leaders of the Islamist movement.
Hamas said two of its senior leaders would meet Carter in Cairo later on Wednesday after Israel refused to allow the former U.S. president to travel to Gaza.
Carter is also expected to meet exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Friday, despite strong opposition from both Israel and the U.S. administration.
(Agencies via Al-Arabiya)