The Israeli army has shot dead five Palestinians and wounded 45 others in a raid on a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. At least one soldier was killed in the operation.

Dozens of Israeli tanks, backed by attack helicopters, entered the Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip Sunday.

The forces also used armored personnel carriers, bulldozers and jeeps in the operation against the camp, which is close to the border with Egypt and home to some 60,000 residents.

During the raid, one of the biggest in 30 months of conflict, tanks reached the center of Rafah, where heavy fighting broke out with Palestinian gunmen.

In a statement, the Israeli military said Palestinians attacked the troops with firearms, explosives and anti-tank rockets, and soldiers returning fire hit some of the gunmen.

The Israeli army said soldiers had destroyed two tunnels used for smuggling weapons under the Gaza-Egypt border and blew up the house of local Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Shamala. His organization frequently carries out suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks against Israel. Israel Radio reported that Mr. Shamala had been killed in the operation.

Witnesses said ambulances could be heard rushing to the area with sirens wailing but Palestinian residents say the ambulances were prevented from entering the camp. All the wounded arrived at a local hospital in private vehicles, the residents say.

In response to the raid, Palestinians fired three Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip at the Israeli town of Sderot. One of the missiles hit a building in the center, wounding one woman and setting the structure on fire.