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Hamas orders Palestinian forces to fight Israel

Up to 23 Palestinians, 1 Israeli killed as Gaza offensive intensifies

An injured boy is brought to a hospital after an airstrike by Israeli forces on Beit Lahya.




GAZA CITY (CNN) -- The Hamas-led Palestinian government ordered its security forces Thursday to fight back against the Israelis who have been hammering Gaza with airstrikes and artillery since one of their soldiers was kidnapped last month.

As many as 25 Palestinians may have died in Thursday's fighting, though there were conflicting death tolls. One Israeli soldier was killed near Beit Lahya, according to Israel Defense Forces.

Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Siyyam told security forces to rise up and "confront this incursion and cowardly Zionist aggression," Reuters reported. (Watch how the innocent get caught in the violence -- 2:44)

But it was unclear how many would heed his call and join the resistance.

Most of those forces in Gaza are loyal to the Fatah Party and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, not to Hamas or Siyyam. In the past, battling with the Israeli military has been left to militants, while security forces have been largely sidelined.

Abbas was not involved in the order to security forces to join the fray, said Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat.

Israeli troops encountered intense fighting as they staged military operations in northern and southern Gaza, which Israel says are designed to stop Palestinian rocket attacks in the area and to find kidnapped army Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was abducted June 25 by Palestinian militants during a raid into southern Israel. Israel launched its Gaza offensive June 28.

Israel insists it has no intention to reoccupy Gaza, from which it withdrew its settlers and dismantled its military facilities in September 2005.

"The purpose of Israel's limited incursion into the northern Gaza Strip is to halt the barrage of rockets and missiles that have been hitting Israeli population centers and Israeli cities and terrorizing the population," said Mark Regev, an Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We will be there to reduce the threat. We have no intention of re-occupying Gaza, but it is our obligation to safeguard the lives of our citizens."

Two dozen dead

Thursday's operations included two airstrikes in or near Beit Lahya. Palestinian security and medical sources said six Palestinians were killed in the first strike and four in the second. An IDF spokesperson said four were killed in the first, and the second targeted four militants in the Al Atatra area, northwest of Beit Lahya.

Israeli helicopters and tanks took positions among tightly packed Palestinian homes Thursday in Beit Lahya, as black-masked militants -- some openly carrying bombs with dangling electric cables -- crept through alleyways to get better shots with their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, according to The Associated Press.

Ali Ajrami, a tailor living in Beit Lahya, told the AP that he and his nine children were trapped in their farmhouse after an Israeli tank parked in a garden behind his home and special forces took rooftop positions on neighboring buildings.

"We are trapped. I don't know what to do," he said, adding that he had stocked up on food and diesel fuel before the offensive but he was having a hard time keeping his children indoors.

Another seven Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and eight more in Gaza as Israel strengthened its position in the northern part of the region, Palestinian sources said.

Palestinians have fired three rockets into Israel over the last two days, at least one of which reached Ashkelon, which marks the deepest point in Israel that any of the crude Qassam rockets have reached. There were no reports of casualties.

A call for negotiations

As the fighting became fiercer Thursday, the father of the kidnapped soldier called on both sides to show some restraint.

Speaking in Mitzpeh Hilla in northern Israel, Noam Shalit, whose son has been in captivity for 11 days, told reporters that Israel and the Palestinians need to work out their differences -- including the kidnapping of his son -- civilly.

"Everything has a price," Noam Shalit said to reporters when asked if Israel should talk with Hamas about its demand that Israel release some Palestinian prisoners. "I don't believe there can be any process to gain Gilad's release that won't cost a price. That's now how things work in the Middle East. The question is only -- why are they still waiting? I want to believe that negotiations are being held, in some secret channel, that we just haven't been told about."

Noam Shalit also asked his son's captors to give a serious offer to Egypt, which has been trying to broker a solution to the impasse, but has been rebuffed because Israel sees a prisoner swap as catering to terrorists.

It was unclear if Egyptian mediators had been able to resume talks with the three militant groups claiming to hold Shalit -- Hamas' military wing, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam.

The elder Shalit said the proposal must be "a serious offer that the state of Israel can deal on this basis and can live with this offer."

This, Noam Shalit said, would be the only way to extinguish the agony his family is experiencing and the only way to save "thousands of innocent Palestinians that are suffering from this issue and feel it every day."

CNN's Avivit Dalgoshen and Paula Newton contributed to this report.

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