Israeli army says eight soldiers killed in armoured vehicle in southern Gaza

Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast in southern Gaza Saturday, the military said, in one of its heaviest losses of the war, as witnesses reported street battles between troops and Palestinian militants.

The military said the soldiers were killed when the Namer armoured vehicle they were travelling in exploded near Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah, where troops are engaged in fierce street battles.

"There was a very serious damage to the vehicle and those in it, and a large explosion making it difficult to identify and locate the bodies," it said.

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari told a televised briefing that the blast was "apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile".

Saturday's losses were among the heaviest for the military since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27 and took its overall toll since then to 306 deaths.

In the single largest loss of life for the army, 21 soldiers were killed on January 22 when rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire hit a tank near two buildings they were preparing to blow up.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to the soldiers who had lost their lives. "Our hearts are shattered before this terrible loss," he said in a statement.

"Despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war."

That has not happened.


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