BUREIJ REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops raided two Gaza refugee camps early today, sparking gunbattles that killed 13 Palestinians a day after militants choreographed an elaborate attack on soldiers at the main Israel-Gaza crossing point.
The dead included eight militants, a 15-year-old boy and an 8-year-old boy.
In today's raid, at least 59 Palestinians were wounded in fighting, said Dr. Moawia Hassanen, director of emergency services at the Palestinian Health Ministry. Nine of the wounded were in critical condition.
The army said it raided the Bureij refugee camp in a "pinpointed operation against . . . terrorist cells who frequently fire mortar shells and activate explosive devices against Israeli civilian and military targets."
In intensive fighting, Palestinians fired anti-tanks missiles at soldiers and detonated explosives, the army said, adding that at least one armed Palestinian was hit.
Fighting has intensified in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks — with the army carrying out more targeted killings and raids as Palestinian militants stage more suicide and other attacks — as each side tries to make a planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip look like a victory.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned today's raid, calling for a return to negotiations on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
"At a time when they're speaking about withdrawing from Gaza, they're destroying Gaza," Erekat said.
On Saturday, three main Palestinian militant groups staged an elaborate attack at the Erez Crossing, sending a suicide bomber and militants with assault rifles in vehicles disguised as Israeli army jeeps to attack soldiers guarding the heavily fortified area. The carefully coordinated attack began when a taxi laden with explosives blew up near a military checkpoint.
Four Palestinian assailants and two policemen were killed in the attack. No Israelis were hurt.
Before dawn today, Israeli forces, backed by at least two Apache helicopter gunships hovering overhead, moved slowly down alleys and side streets on the outskirts of the Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps. Sniper units stationed themselves on rooftops, witnesses said.
Calls for gunmen to come out and fight the Israeli forces came over mosque loudspeakers in the camp and dozens of men from several militant factions poured into the streets, clashing with the troops. Sounds of intense gunfire punctuated the air.
By Greg Myre
New York Times News Service
JERUSALEM — Six Palestinians were killed Saturday when a group of assailants, in jeeps resembling Israeli military vehicles, tried an elaborate shooting and bombing attack on Israeli soldiers at the main crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip, officials said.
The Palestinian dead included four attackers and two policemen, Palestinian and Israeli security officials said. In addition, about 20 Palestinians, most of them policemen, were wounded in the assault on the heavily guarded Erez crossing point at the northern end of Gaza.
Palestinians have carried out two deadly attacks at Erez in the past two months, and the Saturday morning attack involved militants from three Palestinian factions, which claimed collective responsibility.
However, Israel's security forces were on a heightened state of alert over a holiday weekend, which has often resulted in major Palestinian attacks in the past.
The Palestinians approached the Israeli soldiers in three jeeps painted to look as if they belonged to the Israeli military, said Brig. Gen. Gadi Shamni, commander of Israeli forces in Gaza. The first jeep blew up outside a heavily fortified army position, killing the Palestinian driver, but causing no Israeli casualties, Shamni said.
The second jeep advanced farther, toward another military position. The Israeli soldiers hesitated briefly, unsure who was inside the jeep, he said. But when a Palestinian gunman stepped out and opened fire, the soldiers shot back, killing the gunman and the jeep's driver.
The third jeep exploded near a Palestinian checkpoint, killing the Palestinian driver and two Palestinian policemen. The blast also accounted for many of the Palestinian wounded, said Israeli and Palestinian security officials.
The Palestinian security officials told the Israelis that the policemen tried to stop the jeep from approaching an Israeli position, Shamni said. In the past, Israel has repeatedly criticized the Palestinian security forces for either assisting Palestinian factions in carrying out attacks, or passively standing by while attacks were carried out.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the three factions that have carried out a vast majority of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel, said they all took part in Saturday's assault. In recent months, it has become increasingly common for the Palestinian factions to join forces to carry out attacks.