BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. Marines clashed with insurgents on the outskirts of the rebel bastion of Fallujah and launched airstrikes at militant targets, the U.S. command said Friday.

Around sundown Thursday, militants fired small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at U.S. forces, who hit back with ground fire and airstrikes.

Hospital officials in Fallujah reported that eight people were killed and two wounded in the fighting. The U.S. command said it had no information on “anti-Iraq forces” killed.

On Friday, the military said that “combat operations” have not begun and American forces have not entered the city. Coalition forces are still conducting “security operations,” the military said.

An airstrike Thursday at 10 p.m. hit one suspected militant site where “20 armed invidividuals were seen moving crates and equipment from house to house,” the U.S. military said.

Multiple secondary explosions were seen but the military said it had no information on anti-Iraq forces killed.

Attacks across the country have increased by about 25 percent since the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that began last weekend, with mostly car bombs and strikes on civilians rather than direct assaults on U.S. forces, Pentagon officials say.

American commanders have spoken of a new offensive ahead of Iraq’s crucial elections in January aimed at suppressing insurgents who control a number of central Sunni Muslim cities, particularly the stronghold of Fallujah, where peace negotiations with city leaders have broken down.

On Thursday, the British government agreed to a U.S. request to transfer 850 British troops of the First Battalion, Black Watch Regiment from southern Iraq to an area near Baghdad so U.S. troops could be shifted to insurgent hotspots.

The decision has been highly controversial with major opposition within the governing Labour Party among lawmakers who saw it as a political move to aid President George W. Bush ahead of November elections in America.

Fallujah leaders on Thursday had called on the Iraqi government to pursue a peaceful solution to the military standoff around the city and order a halt to frequent U.S. airstrikes.

Fallujah community leaders also issued a list of other demands, including compensation for damaged property and withdrawing U.S. troops from the city’s outskirts. Fallujah leaders want any Iraqi military units which deploy into the city to consist exclusively of Fallujah natives.

But late Thursday, Al-Arabiya television reported that the Iraqi government had rejected the demands.

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