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Israel, Hamas in gun battles as conflict rages on

JERUSALEM -- Hamas militants engaged in gun battles with Israeli forces and sought to target them with explosive devices Saturday while continuing to fire rockets into Israel, as the conflict stretched into its 12th day.

In one incident, the militants strapped a donkey with explosives and pushed it in the direction of Israeli soldiers, said Israel's military, adding in a statement that soldiers "engaged the donkey and it exploded at a safe distance" without injuring any troops.

Even as Israeli ground forces targeted Hamas' tunnel networks inside Gaza -- their main stated objective -- Islamist militants tried to infiltrate Israel early Saturday through a tunnel in central Gaza, Israel's military said.

The apparent target was an Israeli community on the Gaza border. The militants, Israel's military said, encountered an Israeli army patrol and fired an anti-tank missile and machine guns at the forces. One militant was killed and two Israeli soldiers wounded. The rest of the Palestinian fighters fled back into Gaza, Israel's military said.

The Palestinian death toll from the conflict rose Saturday to more than 330, with about 2,200 injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The United Nations estimates that roughly 80 percent of the casualties are civilians, many of them children.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are seeking refuge in UN shelters.

Three Israeli soldiers were injured in southern Gaza overnight, when an explosive device planted by Hamas militants detonated, Israel's military said. Another three soldiers were injured in northern Gaza when a militant opened fire on them. The soldiers fired back and killed the militant.

An Israeli Bedouin man was killed and an infant girl was severely injured by a rocket that struck in the Negev area, said officials with Magen David Adom, Israel's first-aid agency.

Twenty-nine people were slightly injured.

Since Israel's ground offensive began Thursday night, one Israeli soldier has been killed and at least nine injured, according to the military. In addition, an Israeli civilian was fatally injured by rocket shrapnel earlier in the week.

Israel's ground forces remained focused around the fringes of Gaza's border, searching for Hamas tunnel networks and rocket launchers, and had not advanced into Gaza's densely populated urban areas by yesterday afternoon, said Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli Army spokesman.

On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to head to the region to try to relaunch cease-fire negotiations that have so far failed to defuse the conflict.

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