Israeli troops operating in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday shot and killed three Palestinians and wounded 20, Palestinian hospital officials said.
The Israeli army said it was operating against Palestinian militants on a mission to launch rockets at southern Israel, and that several armed men were hit. Palestinian security said the troops opened fire on a group of Palestinians.
The Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, said the target of the Israeli operation appeared to be Ata Shindari, who led the group's rocket branch. Shindari and one of his brothers were killed in the attack, said Abu Abir, the group's spokesman.
The shooting came one day after several Israeli Cabinet ministers called for a military operation to retake control of Gaza's southern border and prevent Palestinian militants smuggling weapons from Egypt.
"Action must be taken without hesitation. Any hesitation is dangerous and we must act immediately," said Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai of the religious party Shas.
Israel is engaged in a massive offensive in Gaza aimed at stopping Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel. More than 250 Palestinians, half of them civilians, have died.
Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian government spokesman, said that the proposal was a potential ruse for an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza -- something Israel has said repeatedly is not in the works.
"The call to retake the border is a serious escalation and an incitement for more Israeli aggression," Hamad said.
Yishai's call to move back into the 12km Gaza zone was echoed by two other Cabinet ministers and a senior military commander.
Israel believes that since the withdrawal, tonnes of arms have been taken into Gaza from Egypt.