Gaza hit with air strikes

Eight Palestinians were killed in after-dark aerial attacks following violence in which 11 other people, including two women, were killed by Israeli fire, bringing the total Palestinian death toll to 35 in three days.

Of the eight killed in night-time air strikes, at least five were armed men, including one from the military wing of the governing Islamist movement Hamas, killed in raids over the towns of Beit Hanun, Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya and Rafah.

A rescue worker was also killed and a colleague wounded in a strike in the Jabaliya refugee camp, medics said.

An Israeli military spokesman confirmed five different air strikes throughout the Gaza Strip, targeting suspected militants who were planting explosives or behind rocket attacks on Israel.

“I know we hit out targets,” the spokesman told news agency AFP, listing them as two gunmen planting explosives around Beit Hanun, a cell of rocket launchers and five suspected Hamas members involved in rocket attacks.

Two Palestinian youths, a 15-year-old boy and another aged 20, were shot and fatally wounded by Israeli troops and five Hamas members killed in an air strike and shooting in Beit Hanun.

Women free militants

The raids came just hours after gunmen escaped a besieged mosque in a daring rescue bid mounted by heavily veiled women in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, which Israeli troops have been occupying since Wednesday.

Four protestors, including two women, were killed ahead of the rescue of 15 militants from various armed groups, including Hamas, who had been besieged in Al-Nasr mosque since Thursday, seeking protection from one of the biggest Israeli operations since June.

Braving Israeli gunfire and tanks, around 200 women marched on and entered the mosque to collect the gunmen, before walking out, shielding them in the midst of their heavily veiled ranks, protecting them from Israeli gunfire.

“We risked our lives to free our sons,” said Um Mohammed, in her 40s.

Some of the escaping militants disguised themselves as women, others were hidden from view by hiding in their midst, according to witnesses.

Pleas for help

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas renewed calls on the international community to intervene to stop the bloodshed, as both Britain and France moved to express concern over the escalating troubles.

“The president asks the international community to intervene immediately to stop the Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip and massacres committed for the last three days that have lead to the deaths of more than 30,” Mr Abbas said.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and her French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy also expressed concern.

“I call on all the parties to show restraint and above all to avoid an escalation of violence,” Mr Douste-Blazy told reporters.

More than 80 people have been wounded and around 100 detained in the Gaza operation.

Israel says Beit Hanun has become a launchpad for rocket attacks against its citizens, but the operation has failed to stop the rocket fire.

In the West Bank, troops arrested a Palestinian cabinet minister in the internationally boycotted Hamas-led government, shot dead two Palestinian youths and wounded another two people in a series of military operations.