( dpa ) - Israeli troops rolled into the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday, sparking fierce gunbattles with local militants and killing at least nine Palestinians, hospital officials reported.
One of the dead was the son of Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior official of the radical Islamic Hamas movement ruling Gaza, and the former foreign minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Husam al-Zahar, 23, was taking part in the fighting when killed, residents said. He is Mahmoud al-Zahar's second son to die in Israeli-Palestinian violence. Another son, Khaled, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his house in 2004.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian sniper from Gaza killed a foreign volunteer in an Israeli kibbutz (agricultural commune) bordering the Strip, a spokesman for the kibbutz, Ain Ha'Shlosah, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. The 20-year-old volunteer from Ecuador was shot in the back while working in a field near the Israel-Gaza border fence.
Witnesses said a number of tanks and bulldozers earlier drove some 400- 500 metres into northern Gaza around dawn, reaching up to the eastern outskirts of Gaza City. They began levelling makeshift structures and agricultural fields, from which militants have been firing rockets into Israel.
Hospital officials said at least six of the Palestinian dead were militants and two civilians. It was not immediately clear whether the ninth fatality was a militant or a civilian. At least 10 other people were also injured in the ongoing fighting.
A spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said the Israeli military fired from the air and the ground at Palestinian militants who confronted the troops with a mortar launcher and semi-automatic fire.