Teenage Girl Killed in Gaza Raid

A 14-year-old Palestinian girl has been killed in an exchange of heavy fire between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters in northern Gaza, according to medics.
 
The Israeli military said that it had carried an air raid targeting armed men in Beit Lahiya, near the border with Israel, early on Saturday.

"The air force launched two raids on Saturday morning against armed elements in the northern Gaza Strip," a spokeswoman said.

Palestinian medics said that the girl was killed when an Israeli missile hit her house.
 
Hamas officials told the Associated Press news agency that Hassan Marouf, a local leader of the group, was the target of the Israeli raid and troops withdrew after detaining him.

The dead girl was reportedly his daughter, Mariam.

Critical Conditions

Seven people were wounded in air raids, three of whom are in critical condition, they said.

One of the ambulances coming from the scene was damaged after apparently being caught up in the clashes, which began when an Israeli undercover force entered a border area.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters fired at the group with machine guns, mortars and homemeade bombs.
 
Residents said that Israel responded by sending dozens of tanks to the area as aircraft provided cover.

"There were also exchanges of fire, but none of our people were hit," the Israeli military spokeswoman said.

Medics said the five missile strikes had been launched before dawn.
Truce rejection

The raid came after Israel on Friday dismissed a conditional six-month truce proposed by Hamas, saying that it was a ruse to allow the Palestinian group to recover from losses after recent clashes with the Israeli military.

Hamas offered to halt cross-border rocket attacks if Israel opened crossing points into the Gaza strip and ended military incursions.

"Hamas is biding time in order to rearm and regroup. There would be no need for Israel’s defensive actions if Hamas would cease and desist from committing terrorist attacks on Israelis," David Baker, Israeli government spokesman, said.

"Israel will continue to act to protect its citizens," he told the Reuters news agency on Friday.
 
The same day, thousands of supporters of Hamas protested in Gaza against Israel’s refusal to accept the truce.
 
There were protests in the north and south of the enclave near border crossings into Israel and Egypt.
 
In Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, about 5,000 people waved Hamas flags and banners proclaiming "No to the siege".
 
Yussef al-Shrafi, a Hamas official, told the crowd: "Hamas is working in a positive manner to end the siege and achieve a truce."

Egypt Plea
 
In Rafah, about 1,000 people called for Egypt to open its border crossing, the only one that bypasses Israel.
 
"We do not represent a threat to Egypt’s security, but we ask our brothers to open Rafah and break the siege," said Abu al-Sibbah, a Hamas leader.
 
Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from Gaza, said the protests were an attempt by Hamas to put pressure on Israel to lift its blockade.
 
"In a way, Hamas is showing its power – it’s moved thousands of people to two of the crossing points, one by Israel and one by Egypt," he said.
 
"And I suppose, behind it is the threat that once against they will attempt to storm these crossing points if and when the Israelis decide they are not going to change their attitude and lift the suffocating siege of the Gaza Strip."
 
(Source: Al Jazeera and agencies)

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