Israeli Army Clashes with Palestinian Militants

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The Israel Army steps up its offensive against Palestinian militants in Northern Gaza, pressing for the release of an abducted soldier. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed, including militant fighters and some civilians. One Israeli soldier has been killed and two others have been injured.

Israel's cross-border operation began more than a week ago, aimed at securing the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19.

The Israeli government gave the green light for mechanized infantry to push deeper into northern Gaza after militants linked to the ruling Hamas faction fired new, longer range Kassam rockets this week. The rockets struck Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city that had been thought to be just beyond the range of the crudely made rockets.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the rocket strikes a major provocation. Now the Israeli operation — with a stated original goal of rescuing a captured soldier — has become an expanding ground operation to try to suppress daily rocket fire.

The father of the captured Israeli soldier asked the Israeli government Thursday to consider releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his son. Israel reiterated that there will be no negotiations.

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