Heavy fighting erupted in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday as a column of Israeli tanks entered the outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp during a sweep for militants launching rockets into Israel. Palestinian gunmen engaged the Israeli forces a day after troops were deployed in what the army called an open-ended operation. Loud explosions echoed around and residents said a helicopter hovering overhead launched a missile at gunmen. Three militants were wounded, one critically, in the strike. Jabalya, the largest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, is a hotbed for militants and home to around 100,000 Palestinians. The incursion, one of the biggest in north Gaza in months, came a week after Hamas suicide bombers killed 16 people on Israeli buses in Beersheba. Israel struck back on Tuesday, hitting a Hamas training camp and triggering vows of revenge, informs Reuters. According to the USATODAY, an Israeli helicopter fired a missile early Thursday at a group of militants in northern Gaza during an army operation there, wounding at least one person, witnesses and hospital officials said. Israeli tanks and troops moved into northern Gaza early Wednesday, taking over areas where Palestinian militants fire homemade rockets at Israeli towns just across the Gaza fence. During the day, soldiers opened fire on Palestinians throwing rocks at the tanks, wounding 13, one of them seriously. The witnesses said the Israeli forces were moving slowly toward the edge of the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp, and the helicopter fired the missile at a group of gunmen gathering to offer resistance. Hamas turned one of its most painful setbacks in four years of fighting with Israel into a macabre popularity festival Tuesday, as 30,000 Palestinians participated in the funerals of 14 militants taken by surprise on their training ground by Israeli helicopter gunships. In a sense, it was a nonviolent - though armed - Hamas takeover of Gaza's streets, with youths planting the green Hamas flag above electricity poles and hanging from the sides of packed trucks, as marchers carried the corpses on stretchers and masked gunmen fired off shots in tributes to the dead. The turnout and fervor is one indication that despite the loss of key leader Abdul Aziz Rantissi and the movement's founder, Ahmed Yassin, to Israeli assassinations last spring, Hamas has retained its appeal in the eyes of Palestinians as the prime alternative to the Palestinian Authority and leading challenger to Israel, publishes CSMonitor.
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