GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Israeli troops killed seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Monday, one of the bloodiest days of fighting during a four-month offensive. The dead included a militant involved in rocket attacks on Israel, prompting Palestinian calls for revenge.
Israeli tanks and troops moved into northern Gaza looking for militants preparing to fire rockets at Israel, the military said. The Israeli forces encountered armed Palestinians and engaged them in a battle, killing seven and wounding at least 14, Palestinian hospital officials said.
The Popular Resistance Committees militant group said Ata Shimbari, leader of its rocket-launching unit, was killed. PRC spokesman Abu Abir vowed revenge.
``This is the calm before the storm,'' he told a news conference.
Witnesses said at least six of the seven dead men were armed.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas denounced Israel for launching the raid at the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
``It appears that the occupation is insisting on stealing the joy of the holiday from the Palestinians and committed this massacre,'' Haniyeh said.
An Israeli army commander in the area, Maj. Tal Lev-Ram, said the raids would continue. ``We intend to operate against the rocket launchers even if it is in the Gaza Strip,'' he told The Associated Press. ``We are moving the battle to their area.''
Since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza a year ago, militants have been firing rockets from Gaza at Israeli towns and villages just across the border fence.
The fighting intensified after the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier by the Popular Resistance Committees and other militants linked to the ruling Hamas, which touched off an Israeli military campaign in Gaza. The offensive has been expanded to target weapons-smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
Israel has also kept Gaza border crossings largely closed since the soldier was seized, sharply restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the strip.
The abduction of the soldier, who remains in captivity, has undermined efforts to bring Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together for talks.
Israel is boycotting Hamas, regarding it as a terror group because of its record of sending dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, but Israel regards the moderate Abbas as an acceptable negotiating partner.
However, efforts to resume peace talks were dealt a potential blow by Olmert's decision Monday to accept into his governing coalition Avigdor Lieberman, a politician who takes a hard-line stand against the Arabs.