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Six Israeli soldiers, seven Palestinians dead in Gaza fighting

Groups claim to hold Israeli body parts hostage

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vows again to seek out and strike Palestinian militants, after six Israeli soldiers were killed in a Gaza City explosion.

An Israeli operation in Gaza City to destroy workshops making Qassam rockets resulted in six Israelis and seven Palestinians being killed.
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Six Israeli soldiers and seven Palestinians were killed Tuesday in what Israel Defense Forces called a major operation in Gaza City to destroy workshops making Qassam rockets, according to the Israeli military and Palestinian hospital sources.

Four of the dead Palestinians were said to be children, according to Palestinian hospital sources.

Dan Harel, the IDF southern region commander, said all Palestinians killed were armed militants.

Three Palestinian groups -- the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Islamic Jihad and Hamas -- said they were holding body parts of two Israeli soldiers and intended to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with Israel.

Harel told reporters that the IDF mission is now to recover and bring home the missing bodies of the soldiers.

He said the Israeli military is in control of the area where the Israeli soldiers were killed and his troops were conducting house-to-house searches for their remains.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon summoned his Security Cabinet for a meeting Tuesday evening.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a military offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement that has carried out numerous attacks against military targets and civilians in Israel and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. In March 2002, the U.S. State Department designated it as a foreign terrorist organization.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

The Israeli troops were killed Tuesday when an armored personnel carrier ran over an explosive device in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the attack, distributed a videotape of the incident to news organizations.

Video from the scene transmitted by two news agencies showed Palestinians dancing in the streets with pieces of the personnel carrier and what Palestinians said were parts of the bodies of Israeli soldiers.

Hamas has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

Several hours after the attack on the personnel carrier, an Israeli helicopter fired a missile and hit a car in the city. An 18-year-old Palestinian was killed by the helicopter missile strike, Palestinian hospital sources said. Another six were killed during earlier fighting, they said.

During the Israeli attack, black smoke drifted across the city as rockets from Israeli gunships struck the heavily populated area, video from the Ramattan news agency showed. Palestine Red Crescent ambulances sped through the city carrying the wounded.

Israeli military sources said a helicopter fired a missile at Palestinians laying an explosive device. Palestinian militia sources said hundreds of its members had taken up arms against the Israelis.

Palestinian security sources and Palestinian hospital officials said seven Palestinians have been killed, including a Hamas military wing leader, and 120 have been wounded since Israeli forces entered the area Monday.

According to security sources, Israeli troops surrounded two houses, one of which was believed to belong to a suicide bomber. Israeli soldiers pushed into Gaza backed by armored personnel carriers, tanks and bulldozers. Military sources said the Palestinians detonated a number of explosive devices.

According to Israeli military sources, Israeli troops destroyed 32 machines used in the production of Qassam rockets, antitank missiles and other weapons used by Palestinian fighters.

Sharon has proposed a complete Israeli military and settlement pullout from Gaza. His proposal has been praised by President Bush but was voted down in a Likud party referendum on May 2. Sharon has said he is in the process of revising the disengagement plan, which also called for a partial Israeli pullout from the West Bank.

Sharon has said the withdrawal is necessary because the Palestinian Authority had failed to rein in attacks on Israelis and because the diplomatic process is in a "frozen state."

Palestinians have criticized Israel's new plan, charging Sharon is attempting to circumvent the negotiations called for in the road map to Middle East peace, which is supported by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

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