Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel has mounted military operations in the Gaza Strip in the last few days to combat an escalation of efforts to increase terror activity there, an Israeli official said on Wednesday.
Dozens of Israeli tanks and infantry troops backed up by combat helicopters raided the northern part of Gaza City early Wednesday, and battles with militants left 11 Palestinians dead.
Israeli troops also are staging an operation in the heart of the West Bank city of Nablus.
Israel has stepped up its operations against Hamas since the organization claimed responsibility for blowing up a tank on Saturday, killing the four soldiers inside.
The Israeli military killed eight senior Hamas militants in the last two days, in addition to the 11 killed in the overnight raids. Hamas has threatened revenge for the strikes against its members.
David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, said Israel's objective is to prevent an escalation of terrorist activities against its citizens.
"Israel's concerns in the Gaza Strip is that there are continuous efforts to ratchet things up," Baker said.
"Israeli army measures overnight had one purpose only - to protect the lives of Israeli citizens, who are threatened by the specter of Palestinian terror," he said.
The army said it had destroyed four metal workshops, which it charged were used to produce mortars and Kassam missiles. The move against the metal workshops is an element of Israel's "ongoing war against terror and its infrastructures."
During the incursion, eight explosive charges were detonated, anti-tank missiles were launched, grenades were thrown, and shots were fired at the Israeli forces, the army said in a statement.
Israeli troops returned fire at the source of the shooting, the army said.
According to media reports, a Palestinian suicide bomber also blew himself up in an attack on a tank. Gunfire and explosions were reportedly heard throughout the city and electricity to the city was also cut by the activities.
Palestinian sources were quoted as saying that 11 Palestinians were killed and some 25 others, mostly militants and security personnel, were wounded in the clashes.
It was the highest death toll in a single operation since an Israeli raid in another part of Gaza City on January 26, when 12 Palestinians were killed.
Surrounded by a security fence, the densely populated Gaza Strip is known as a Hamas stronghold. According to media reports, Israel has planned a number of operations to strike at Hamas but does not plan to re-occupy the area.
Israeli army Col. Imad Faras said in a television interview that the operation proved Israel was willing to go after Hamas "in a place they thought, they believed, that we would not be able to get to."
Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi threatened that Gaza would become a "graveyard for [Israeli] soldiers" and said that Hamas would continue its "holy war to liberate this land," in reference to all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for most of the deadly suicide bombings during the last 29 months, are both dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
In the West Bank town of Nablus, Palestinians reported one person killed in clashes with soldiers early on Wednesday.
The army said it had been operating in the area of the casbah since Tuesday evening in an operation that was still continuing midday on Wednesday.
"The forces will be scanning the area and arresting wanted men in order to damage the foundation of the terror in the area," an army statement said.