Palestinian sources say at least eight Palestinians have been killed and more than 30 others wounded, including several children, during an Israeli military incursion into the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops, tanks and armored vehicles swept into the Rafah refugee camp Tuesday, in what the Israeli Army says is part of ongoing efforts to find and destroy arms smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

Tuesday's death toll is the highest since Israeli raids on refugee camps in October killed 14 Palestinians. Late Monday, violence also killed two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian militant in Gaza.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has condemned Tuesday's raid, which came as efforts were being made to restart the stalled peace process. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also issued a statement "strongly" condemning the Israeli incursion, saying Israel, as an occupying power, must protect civilians.

And Israeli police say they have arrested several Palestinians in connection with Monday's assault on Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian official Farouk Kaddoumi has arrived in Cairo to apologize for the incident, in which Palestinians angry over Mr. Maher's meeting with Israel's prime minister shoved and jostled the Egyptian diplomat.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah, has appealed to Palestinians and Israelis to make peace and end the suffering of both peoples. In his Christmas message, the Palestinian clergyman urged both sides to negotiate a settlement under a land for peace formula.