Al Qassam brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, announced that among those killed were 13resistance fighters. The brigade statement added that Hussam al Zahar, son of the prominent Hamas leader Dr Mahmoud Al Zahar, was among those killed in the attack.
Zahar accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of complicity in his son's death. "This is the hope of Abu Mazen and his colleagues, the collaborators with Israel and the spies of America," Zahar said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. Hamas, he vowed, will respond to Tuesday's raid "in the appropriate way. We will defend ourselves by all means."
Debka File reports following the Israeli attack Hamas then bombarded Israeli communities with heavy missile, rocket and heavy machine gun barrages from Gaza during the day: 25 missiles, mostly at Sderot, a Katyusha rocket at southern Ashkelon, heavy machine fire, for the first time in the conflict, at the homes of Kibbutz Alumim and 16 mortar rounds. Property was heavily damaged in several places. Carlos Andres Chavez, 20, a volunteer from Ecuador, was shot in the back by a sniper while working in the potato fields of Israeli Ein Hashlosha kibbutz farm. The sniper attack presented Israeli farmers working in their fields with a deadly new threat.
Emergency medical services have declared top-level alert in a wide radius of towns and communities within range of the Gaza Strip ready for further escalation.
However, Tuesday's violence was merely the beginning, said Mahmoud al-Zahar.
Hamas also called for a general strike in Gaza and the West Bank on Wednesday to protest the heavy number of deaths.
The exiled leader of Hamas Khaled Mashaal, in an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus where he lives, accused President Bush of inciting Israeli leaders.
"This crime is the ugly fruit of Bush's visit to the region. He has incited the Zionists and has exerted pressure on the Palestinian side to become more hardline against Palestinian dialogue," he said during the interview in his office.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the raids as "a massacre" which would not be forgotten by the Palestinians.
"There was a massacre today against our people, and we say to the world that our people will not remain silent against such crimes," he said.
Israeli President Shimon Peres told Haaretz as long as Gaza militants continue to fire rockets into the Jewish state, "we are left without a choice but to answer and stop it."
David baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said of the attacks, "These measures will continue until these attacks cease and as to enable our citizens to live in peace in quiet and not to fall victim to incessant Palestinian terror."
Haaretz reports Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza Health Ministry said many of the dead and wounded in Gaza lost limbs.
Because of the high number of casualties, Hassanain questioned whether Israeli Defense Force (IDF) troops were using tank-fired flechette shells, an anti-personnel weapon that throws out thousands of metal darts
The IDF had no immediate comment on whether such munitions were used.
The following report is from Maan News Agency.
Death toll in Gaza rises to 19 after new Israeli raid on Gaza City
The death toll in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday has risen to 19 after two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid into northern Gaza City on Tuesday evening.
Just hours after the Israeli withdrawal from the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, eyewitnesses said an Israeli rocket attack near the agricultural school left two people dead and several others injured.
Mu'awiyah Hassanein, the head of ambulance and emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry, said the injured were transferred to Beit Hanoun Hospital for treatment.
Earlier in the day Israeli tank fire killed 17 Palestinians, including five civilians and the son of senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar, in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City within four hours on Tuesday, witnesses and medics said. 13 of the dead are thought to be members of Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades.
An estimated 50 Palestinians were injured.
Eyewitnesses said that Palestinian fighters exchanged fire with Israeli tanks and armored vehicles as they slowly pushed towards the eastern Gaza City neighborhoods of Ash-Shuja'iyya and Zeitoun.
Witnesses also said that Israeli bulldozers destroyed farmers' groves in the area.
Separately, witnesses said that Israeli military vehicles invaded the industrial zone near the Erez border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.
The Gaza-Based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said that five Palestinian civilians were killed by what they called "indiscriminant" tank fire. According to PCHR, three farmers were killed: sixty-six-year-old As’ad Eissa Radwan Tafesh, twenty-two-year-old Marwan Sameer Ouda, and fifty-year-old Sa’id Mustafa al-Sammouni.
A Thirty-five-year-old car trader named Ayman Fadel Malaka, and a nineteen-year-old student named Abdul Salam Atiya Abu Laban, were also killed by Israeli fire, PCHR said.
Palestinian medics at Ash-Shifa hospital identified some of the dead resistance fighters: Rami Farahat, Ahid Ashur, Muhamad Abu Laban Badwan Auda, Khalil Mudallal, Mustafa Salim, Mustafa Yahya Silmi, and Khamis Abu Sawaween.
Mahmoud Zahhar is one of Hamas' founders and served as Palestinan foreign minister from 2006 to 2007. In September 2003, Zahhar's other son Khaled was killed in an Israeli airstrike that completely destroyed Zahhar's home in Zeitoun.
"This is one of the results of the Bush visit. He encouraged the Israelis to kill our people," Zahhar told reporters.
"What is going on in Gaza today is a shame for all of those who cooperated with [US President George W.] Bush, the criminal, and with the Zionists," Zahar said. "I am talking about all kings, presidents and ministers," he said, in an apparent criticism of Arab leaders who met with Bush.
"We are telling them, today they are killing our sons, tomorrow they are going to kill yours."
PA condemns attack
The official spokesperson of the Palestinian Presidency, Nabil Abu Rdainah, condemned the Israeli attack in the name of the Palestinian Authority (PA), calling the incursion "brutal" and "a criminal act." He said that such attacks will weaken the position of Palestinian negotiators in talks with Israeli officials. He called on the Israeli government to stop impeding the peace process.
Meanwhile Hamas' armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for shooting and killing a person in the Israeli kibbutz of Ein Hashlosha east of Al-Qarara in in the southern Gaza Strip.