GAZA CITY: Palestinian militants fired more rockets into southern Israel on Sunday after 12 people were killed in the deepest Israeli raid into this city since the Palestinian Authority was created in 1994, just 48 hours ahead of Israels elections.
The Katyusha-style unguided missiles caused no damage or injuries as they crashed into fields close to the Israeli town of Sderot across the Gaza border, police said.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz justified the armys overnight raid as an attempt to smash metal workshops allegedly making Qassam rockets, seven of which were launched at Israel on Friday without causing casualties.
Mofaz warned of more operations in the densely populated Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Israeli public radio said, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharons spokesman said the Jewish state could retake control of the Gaza Strip if militants launched more rockets.
The operation we carried out overnight on Saturday is a clear message of dissuasion, if it is not understood, we will not exclude any options including one to re-take control of all the Gaza Strip, Ranaan Gissin said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called the raid, by more than 25 tanks and other armoured vehicles backed by helicopter gun ships, a demonstration of force linked to Tuesdays Israeli general elections, which the right-wing Sharon is tipped to win.
Hospital sources said 12 Palestinians were killed and 64 injured, six of them seriously, in exchanges of fire between armed Palestinians and Israeli units which rolled into Gaza City from three directions.
At least one of the victims was identified by Palestinian officials as an unarmed man, but the others killed and wounded may have been Palestinian fighters, including a militant from the radical Islamic group Hamas.
But the army insisted all 12 were militants.
Israeli military officials said the army operation met strong resistance, including from automatic weapons fire, anti-tank grenades and charges of explosives.
The Israelis suffered no casualties in the pitched battle.
Palestinians said more than 50 metal workshops were wrecked, as well as 80 small stores, three houses, a restaurant and a supermarket. Israel said more than 100 metal-working machines were destroyed.
Later in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, a six-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and his five-year-old brother wounded by machine gun fire from tanks close to the Israeli-controlled border with Egypt, Palestinian officials said.
A 50-year-old Palestinian man was killed when an Israeli tank shell hit his house in Khan Yunis refugee camp in the south of the strip, hospital sources said.
The latest deaths brought to 2,899 the number of people killed since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, 28 months ago, including 2,156 Palestinians and 687 Israelis.
Some 20,000 people attended the funerals of the 12 slain in Gaza City, many firing in the air and calling for vengeance.
Qassam rockets were fired on Friday from Beit Hanoun at Sderot, sparking Israeli retaliation in which four road bridges linking Beit Hanoun to Gaza City were blown up to isolate the area. AFP