Gunmen escaped a besieged mosque in a daring rescue bid mounted by heavily veiled women Friday as Israel pressed a Gaza offensive that has seen 25 Palestinians killed in 72 hours.
In the West Bank, troops also 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.
In the northern Gaza Strip, four protestors, including two women, died and another 25 people were wounded by Israeli gunfire ahead of a daring rescue attempt to free around 15 Palestinian fighters holed up in a mosque.
Militants from various armed groups, including Hamas, had been holed up in the al-Nasr mosque since Thursday seeking protection from Operation Autumn Clouds, one of the biggest Israeli operations of the last four months in Gaza.
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.
A doctor said one woman and two men were killed out right at the pre-rescue demonstration, before a second woman initially pronounced "clinically dead" from Israeli gunfire also passed away.
Some 400 people, around half of them women, had protested at the western entrance to Beit Hanun well within sight of Israeli armoured vehicles.
Two Israeli helicopters fired off sporadic salvos of gunfire in a bid to disperse the crowd as Israeli ground fire boomed out across Beit Hanun.
A Palestinian journalist working for the local Ramattan news agency was seriously wounded by Israeli fire as he filmed the protest, a medic said.
An army spokeswoman said that large demonstrations of around 3,000 people, mostly women, had been orchestrated by Hamas in order to provide cover for gunmen wanting to escape from the mosque.
"There are a number of incidents in which the forces identified armed gunmen and fired at armed gunmen. We are checking claims that women were hit in these demonstrations. At the moment we can't confirm anything," she said.
Before dawn, four members of Hamas's armed Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the West, were killed in a pre-dawn air strike in eastern Gaza City.
The strike, one of four overnight aerial attacks against what the military called "terror cells" in the Gaza Strip, earned a revenge call from Hamas.
"We will respond vigorously to these assassinations of the sons of Hamas. These assassinations will only make our resistance stronger," threatened Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida.
A fifth Hamas member, a bodyguard to refugees minister Atef Edwane, was shot dead in Beit Hanun, which has been reoccupied by Israeli forces since Wednesday, on a mission to stop rocket attacks against the Jewish state.
Of the 25 Palestinians killed since the offensive began on Wednesday, at least 13 have been militants.
More than 80 people have been wounded and around 100 detained. Israel says Beit Hanun has become a launchpad for rocket attacks into the Jewish state.
But troops have failed to stop the rocket fire, an almost constant curse in communities bordering the Gaza Strip since Israel left the Gaza Strip last year in an historic operation that had closed the curtain on a 38-year occupation.
Moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and the head of the Islamist-led government, prime minister Ismail Haniya, have both condemned the offensive as a "massacre", the latest in four months of Israeli operations in Gaza following the late June abduction of an Israeli soldier by Gaza militants.
In the West Bank, Haniya's public works and housing minister, 46-year-old Abdelrahman Zidane, was arrested by troops at dawn from his home in the territory's political capital Ramallah, Palestinian security sources said.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said only that a "Hamas terrorist in Ramallah" had been arrested, without providing any further details.