The events came on the third day of an Israeli assault on the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, the largest operation Israel has conducted in the Gaza Strip in months.

On Friday, about 200 Palestinian women marched towards the al-Nasir mosque in Beit Hanoun, which Israeli forces surrounded on Thursday, in an attempt to rescue fighters who had taken shelter in the mosque during the Israeli incursion.

The women had responded to an appeal from Hamas broadcast on local radio stations.

Israeli forces opened fire on the women, killing two and injuring six others.

The Israeli army later confirmed that the fighters had managed to escape. 

'Human shields'

Elham Hamad, a Palestinian woman who attended the protests, told Aljazeera: "We were confronted by a tank, and we raised a white flag [but] without any warning they started shooting at us.

"We were confronted by a tank and we raised a white flag [but] without any warning they started shooting at us"

Palestinian woman protester

"A number of women, including me, fell injured. We remained for a long time without any aid or ambulances."

However the Israeli army said that Hamas had used the women "as human shields".

Major Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokeswoman, said: "This is a clear example of use of innocent population for terror."

At least 25 Palestinians have been killed since Israeli troops entered Beit Hanoun on Wednesday in a bid to halt rocket attacks on southern Israel. One Israeli soldier has also died.

On Friday Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, called for international intervention to end Israeli military operations in Gaza.

He said in a statement: "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."

Escape

Meanwhile at least two more Israeli airstrikes on Friday evening killed at least two more Palestinians, Palestinian security officials said.

The Palestinian prime minister
said the raids were terrorism

The first reportedly hit a mosque near Beit Hanoun, injuring three more people, witnesses told AFP. The second, in the town of Beit Lahiya, killed a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and wounded another, medical sources said. 

At a Hamas rally after nightfall on Thursday in Gaza City, Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, called the Israeli offensive "terrorism".

Despite the Israeli assault, Palestinian fighters still managed to fire six homemade missiles at the Israeli border town of Sderot on Thursday, wounding at least two people, medical officials said.

More than 280 Palestinians have been killed in the four-month-old offensive in the coastal territory, about half of them civilians. Three Israeli soldiers have also died.