Israel kills seven in Gaza shelling

Israeli shelling has killed seven Palestinians, including at least two children in the deadliest single incident in the Gaza …

Israeli shelling has killed seven Palestinians, including at least two children in the deadliest single incident in the Gaza Strip in three months.

The fighting began this morning, with militants firing mortar rounds that injured an Israeli woman. In response, tanks fired two shells that slammed into fields as farmers picked potatoes and strawberries, witnesses said.

The Israeli military claimed the shells were aimed at nine masked militants involved in firing the mortar rounds.

In condemning the deaths, Mahmoud Abbas, the front-runner in the campaign for Palestinian leader, called Israel the "Zionist enemy," a marked escalation in anti-Israel rhetoric for Abbas.

Abbas later came very close to the fighting, with two loud explosions going off nearby as he was about to visit survivors of the shelling at a northern Gaza hospital.

Palestinian security officials said the explosions were set off by tank shells, a response to homemade rockets launched by Palestinian militants. Abbas' motorcade sped away.

Dr. Mahmoud al-Asli, director of the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, said the dead were between the ages of 11 and 17. He named the seven victims and said six were from the Jaben family, including three brothers. An Associated Press photographer saw at least two children among the dead.

However, the Israeli military said Palestinian liaison officers gave them similar names of the dead but different ages. The military said it was told that six victims were 17 and older, with four or five of them belonging to the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks and opposes the existence of the Jewish state.

Six people were wounded, including four in critical condition, doctors said. At the Beit Lahiya hospital, the floor of the emergency room was covered with blood, and several women fainted at the morgue's entrance.

A Palestinian farmer said from a hospital bed that the militants were leaving the area when the Israeli tank fired machine guns and shells.

"I was lying on the ground when the shooting started," said the blood-stained farmer, who gave only his first name, Suleiman.

"After it stopped, we ran and found body parts spread all over. One man I helped evacuate had lost his leg."

Tuesday's incident was the single deadliest in Gaza since Sept. 30, when an Israeli tank fired a shell at a group of gunmen in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 23.

Palestinian militants have stepped up mortar and rocket fire on Israeli settlements in Gaza and border towns in recent weeks as rival militant groups jockey for power ahead of a planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and try to portray the pullback as a retreat under fire.