At least 11 Palestinian gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas have been killed in an Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip.  As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there are clear political goals behind the military action.

Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers moved into central Gaza, sparking fierce clashes with gunmen from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.  Soldiers took up positions on rooftops, while the militants planted mines.  Providing backup, Israeli aircraft swooped in and fired missiles.

The army said the aim of the raid was to target militants involved in firing rockets at Israel and to find tunnels used in cross border attacks.

Israel has launched frequent raids into Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory three weeks ago.  Hamas routed the forces of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a civil war.

The army believes that once Hamas consolidates power in Gaza, it will turn its weapons on Israel. 

"Clearly, Israel must take the initiative - a sustained effort and a sustained, I would say, campaign against the heads and the leaders of Hamas," said Israeli analyst Ra'anan Gissin.

Israel's strategy is to weaken Hamas while strengthening the new and moderate West Bank government of President Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen.  Gissin urges Israel to "do the necessary humanitarian gestures and more: prisoners released, opening the roadblocks, doing things to bolster and help Abu Mazen."

This week, Israel transferred $120 million in withheld tax revenues to Mr. Abbas, enabling him to pay the full salaries of government employees for the first time in more than a year.  But he paid Gaza civil servants on condition that they would not cooperate with the Hamas government, deepening the power struggle between the rival Palestinian factions.

In retaliation, Hamas forces in Gaza blocked 400 civil servants loyal to Mr. Abbas from going to their jobs.  They were told that the Abbas government in the West Bank is illegitimate.