KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip - About 25 Israeli armored vehicles rumbled into southern Gaza and clashed with militants after nightfall yesterday. A 1-month-old girl was killed in the crossfire, a medical official said.
The Israeli tanks fired shells, and attack helicopters fired missiles during the clashes, Palestinian witnesses said.
The baby was killed by a ricocheting bullet, said Moaiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official. Eight militants and three civilians were wounded, none of then seriously, he said.
Israeli defense officials said it was a "pinpoint" operation aimed at Gaza militants. It occurred just a day after Israel ended a destructive and bloody ground operation in northern Gaza against Palestinian rocket squads.
The armored column entered Gaza through the Kissufim crossing, which was the main crossing point for Israeli settlers in Gaza before Israel's 2005 pullout, witnesses said.
The soldiers arrested two Islamic Jihad militants and were pulling out two hours after the incursion, witnesses said. The Israeli military confirmed that the operation was over.
Some Israeli officials are calling for a large-scale invasion of Gaza to stop the rocket attacks, which this week have hit as far as the coastal city of Ashkelon, 11 miles north of Gaza.
Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, was quoted as saying that Israel might be forced to send troops back into the territory, but officials in her office clarified that she was referring to a military operation, not reoccupation.
"We cannot afford this kind of extreme Islamic state controlled by Hamas," Livni told foreign diplomats in a meeting in Jerusalem, according to a ministry statement released yesterday. Israel evacuated Gaza "not in order to come back, but we might find ourselves in a situation that we have no other alternative."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said often that a large-scale operation is nearing, indicating that Israel might try to overthrow the Hamas regime.
But Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, while warning of severe reprisals against Hamas, has hesitated to order a large invasion, expressing concern about the inevitably high casualties on both sides.
Palestinians fired three rockets at Israel yesterday, hitting a house in the battered border town of Sderot. The number of rockets was far fewer than in previous days. Israel carried out several air strikes in Gaza, killing one militant.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls a West Bank government that rivals Hamas's Gaza regime, called off talks with Israel on Sunday to protest the exceptionally high death toll from the latest military operation in Gaza.