Five Palestinians and two Israelis were killed near the Gaza Strip border, medics say. Israeli tanks entered Gaza, killing three Palestinians, after militants linked to Islamic Jihad killed two Israeli civilians.
Two Israeli civilians and five Palestinians were killed on Wednesday in an explosion of violence around the Gaza Strip border after Palestinian commandos stormed into Israel.
The attack came after an early morning gunbattle left an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian gunman dead, shattering a month-long lull that followed a bloody Israeli blitz on Gaza aimed at halting rocket fire.
The dead Palestinians included both militants and civilians, including a teenage boy.
The Israeli army said Palestinian fighters breached the border near the Nahal Oz fuel terminal east of Gaza City and moved into Israel under the cover of a barrage of 15 mortar rounds.
The militants killed two Israeli civilians in their 30s, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service, in what the army called a "failed abduction attempt."
Islamic Jihad and two other smaller militant groups claimed responsibility.
The army said two Gaza militants were killed at the border, as emergency and security services across southern Israel went on high alert.
Shortly afterwards, an Israeli military aircraft hit a vehicle carrying Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza City, injuring three, Palestinian medics said.
The army said it was aimed at militants fleeing the border battle.
Minutes later, Israeli tanks entered Gaza through Nahal Oz, and three Palestinian civilians were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, when an artillery round slammed into a nearby house, medics said.
Another three people were wounded, including a teenage girl, they said.
Israel swiftly blamed Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza.
"Hamas clearly controls the Gaza Strip. They are directly responsible for this attack and we will hold them accountable," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.
Egypt was also on high alert after Hamas threatened a repeat of a breach of its border with Gaza in January that allowed thousands of Palestinians to flood into Egypt.
Wednesday's attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and the Mujahedeen, a little-known group which claimed to be linked to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party.
Spokesmen from Islamic Jihad and the PRC said the operation was aimed at seizing Israeli soldiers.
"This martyrdom operation followed the operation in which we killed a soldier at Khan Yunis and it will be followed by other operations to respond to Israeli aggressions and crimes," said Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
A gunbattle had erupted before dawn on Wednesday near the border fence east of the southern town of Khan Yunis, killing an Israeli soldier and a Hamas militant.
On Tuesday, an Israeli missile strike killed a militant in northern Gaza and troops uncovered a tunnel shaft in a house some 700 metres (yards) from the border.
A similar tunnel was used by Gaza militants who raided an army post on the border in June 2006 and seized Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, who is still held by Hamas in the densely populated territory.
Since Israel and the Palestinians formally revived peace talks in November 378 people have been killed, most of them Gaza militants, according to an AFP tally.
The two sides had refrained from engaging in any major attacks for several weeks following a massive Israeli military asault on the Gaza Strip launched in late February that left 130 Palestinians dead and five Israelis.
However, Israel has warned it would not hesitate to conduct another widescale operation in Gaza if militants again step up their attacks.
Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel sealed off the strip from all but vital humanitarian goods in a bid to halt rocket attacks.
Hamas threatened on Tuesday to storm Gaza's borders in a repeat of a breach in January that sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians streaming into Egypt to stock up on supplies.
But Egypt warned on Wednesday it would "not take lightly the protection of its frontiers against any attempt to violate them, no matter who they are."
"Egypt's borders are a red line you cannot cross," Egypt's state-run MENA news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying.
Witnesses in Gaza said they saw increased numbers of Egyptian security forces on the border, including armoured vehicles, snipers on Rafah rooftops and police with dogs patrolling the frontier.
Ambulances have also been sent to the vicinity of Egypt's own 14-kilometre (nine-mile) border with the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has been negotiating with Egypt for weeks in a bid to reopen the Rafah crossing, the only gateway to Gaza that bypasses Israel.
Date created : 2008-04-09