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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 November 2006, 22:47 GMT
Israel mounts air strikes in Gaza
Palestinians surround the wreckage of a van hit by an Israeli air strike
A militant died and two were badly injured when this van was hit
Israeli forces have killed at least seven people including a 12-year-old girl in air raids and incidents during an ongoing offensive in Gaza.

The deaths bring the number of those killed since Wednesday to at least 42. A top Hamas militant is among the dead.

At least 17 people were killed on Friday, including two women shot during the siege of a mosque in Beit Hanoun.

Israel says it is targeting militants but Palestinian officials accuse Israel of a "massacre".

Israeli forces have made regular incursions into Gaza and the West Bank following the capture of an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on 25 June.

'Death and despair'

The young girl was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in Beit Hanoun, during a day of violence.

The army said one of its soldiers had been aiming for a gunman but missed and hit the girl.

An Israeli military spokesman said five air strikes had taken place after nightfall on Friday, targeting the towns of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya and Rafah.

A number of Hamas militants were among those killed in the latest strikes, along with one civilian buried in the rubble of his home.

One of the Hamas militants killed was senior member, Louay al-Borno, who died when an air strike set ablaze a minivan in Gaza City. Two other Hamas members were wounded in the incident.

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The Israeli army also said it had blown up three buildings near the mosque that witnessed Friday's siege in Beit Hanoun. Israel said weapons were being stored in the buildings.

A Palestinian Authority employee told the BBC it was the worst Israeli incursion they had ever had into the town.

Ibrahim al-Za'anin, 55, said they had been without electricity or water since Tuesday night.

"We no longer feel safe in our own homes," he said.

Israeli officials say the offensive is aimed at destroying militant infrastructure and stopping Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the operation a "massacre" and urged the UN Security Council to convene to discuss the issue.

A senior UN official given Israeli permission to enter Beit Hanoun described the atmosphere as one of death, destruction and despair.

'Militants escaped'

Friday's action around the Beit Hanoun mosque followed a tense stand-off between Israeli forces and up to 15 militants who had taken refuge inside.

Women in Beit Hanoun running to the mosque
Women flocked to the Beit Hanoun mosque on Friday

Hamas radio then appealed to local women in the town to intervene.

One of the women, Nahed Abou Harbiya, told the BBC Arabic Service the gunmen inside the mosque were given women's clothes to help them escape.

"All the women headed to the mosque to get the Palestinian resistance men... But the Israeli occupation forces were firing heavily at us with their machine guns and also threw stun grenades at us."

In addition to the two women killed, at least 10 women and a Palestinian cameraman were injured in firing.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya praised the women but Israel said they had served as "human shields" for the militants.

The Israeli military says it only fired on armed Palestinians.




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Aftermath of the attack





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