By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 13, 2006 6:14 AM
JERUSALEM, Oct. 13 -- At least 12 Palestinians were killed Thursday and early Friday as a result of ground fighting and Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
At least seven of the dead were members of the military wing of the governing Hamas movement, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which has sworn to avenge their deaths. Five of the eight people killed on Thursday were from a single family.
Early Friday, Israeli military aircraft fired on a car in the northern Gaza city of Beit Lahiya, known as a launching area for the crude rockets Palestinian gunmen regularly fire into Israel. Israeli military officials said the car was carrying rockets.
Palestinian hospital officials reported that three men were killed in the air strike; officials from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades confirmed the men belonged to their group.
Also on Friday morning, Israeli forces fired on two people in a border area east of Khan Younis that troops had entered the previous day.
The Israeli military described the two as gunmen, and said one was fatally wounded by the troops. Palestinian hospital officials reported that a woman standing in her front yard was also killed by Israeli gunfire in the area.
Israeli military officials said the intensifying operations began Thursday when forces entered the central strip in search of cross-border tunnels that Palestinian armed groups use for smuggling.
The troops were fired on soon after, Israeli military officials said, and returned fire during a series of small-scale attacks for the next few hours. In addition to one Hamas gunmen killed in the ground fighting, at least 11 Palestinians were reported wounded in the exchanges.
The most severe strike Thursday occurred when an Israeli military aircraft, which Palestinian witnesses identified as an Apache attack helicopter, fired on ground targets near the eastern border town of Abassan.
Palestinian medics reported that five members of the Gdaih family were killed in the strike, including three gunmen from Hamas' military arm. The other two were identified as Adel Gdaih, 40, and his 13-year-old son, Suhaib. Witnesses said they were unarmed.
In the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, an Israeli airstrike killed at least two Palestinians and injured four others just after nightfall, according to Palestinian health officials. The target was the home of Ashraf Forwana, a Hamas gunman, who was not there at the time.
One of those killed was an 8-year-old girl, hospital officials said, and the other was Forwana's 40-year-old brother. It was unclear whether he was affiliated with Hamas's military wing.
Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war but evacuated its settlements and military posts there last year. Israeli forces reentered the strip over the summer, after the June 25 capture of an army corporal in a cross-border raid carried out by Hamas's military wing and two smaller armed groups at war with the Jewish state.
Negotiations are underway to exchange the captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, for some of the roughly 8,500 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.
The Palestinian Health Ministry reports that the Israeli military operation, known as Summer Rains, has killed 290 Palestinians, including at least 35 children. International and Israeli human rights agencies also put the number of dead at more than 200, many of them civilians.
Israeli forces are also operating in northern Gaza to stop the firing of crude rockets into southern Israel. At least five rockets landed in southern Israel in the hours after the fighting, including one that disrupted electrical service in the city of Sderot. No injuries were reported.
Special correspondent Islam Abdelkareem in Gaza contributed to this report.