19 Dead in Israeli Raid Into Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops killed the son of Gaza's most powerful leader along with 18 other Palestinians on Tuesday in the worst day of fighting in the area since Hamas militants seized control there last summer.

As fighting raged in Gaza, a Hamas sniper shot and killed an Ecuadorean volunteer working in the potato fields of an Israeli border farm. That killing, and Tuesday's high death toll, stoked the flames of violence at a time when Israel and Palestinian moderates are making halting attempts to talk peace.

The bloodshed began before dawn when Israeli infantry, tanks and helicopters pushed into northern Gaza in what the military said was a routine operation aimed at Palestinian militants who launch rocket barrages at Israeli towns near Gaza almost daily.

Three Palestinian civilians were killed in the ensuing fighting, along with 14 armed militants, one of them Hussam Zahar, 24, the son of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. The Israelis pulled out Tuesday afternoon with no casualties. A later airstrike on militants firing rockets into Israel killed two more Hamas men.

At the morgue at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, a weeping Mahmoud Zahar held his son's bloodied head in his hands and closed his eyes, then kissed him three times on the forehead and recited verses from the Quran.

Zahar is seen as the most powerful Hamas official in Gaza and is thought to have masterminded the group's violent takeover of Gaza in June.