GAZA (Reuters) - Two Palestinian gunmen were killed and three wounded in Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinian medics and the Israeli army said.
The Palestinian deaths were the first in the Islamist Hamas-ruled territory since three gunmen and two Israeli soldiers were killed more than two weeks ago in what was the most serious clash between the two sides in 14 months.
A spokesman for the Islamic Jihad militant group said Israeli tanks fired shells and a helicopter launched a missile at its men east of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said: "An Israeli force identified a number of suspects planting explosives along the security fence (with Gaza). It fired at the suspects, identifying direct hits."
The body of one gunman was taken from the scene as fighting subsided and Islamic Jihad fighters recovered the body of a second man later.
A Palestinian hospital source said the three wounded men were in a moderate to serious condition.
Clashes resumed later when Islamist Jihad gunmen along with others from the Popular Resistance Committees group fired anti-tank rockets and launched mortar bombs at Israeli troops in the area, no further casualties were reported.
The Gaza Strip is controlled by the Hamas movement, which wrested control of the coastal enclave from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in 2007.
Hamas has largely held its fire since a costly three-week war with Israel in the opening days of 2009 in which some 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and 13 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
But smaller factions such as Islamic Jihad have ignored the de facto truce by firing rockets and mortar shells into Israel.
There were no casualties or damage in the shooting incident.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, infantry soldiers, tanks and a helicopter foiled an attempted attack earlier Tuesday, repelling Palestinian militants without Israeli casualties.
The militant group Islamic Jihad said its members had been involved in the incident.
News of the incident follows reports in the Israeli media that the air force bombed targets in Gaza overnight, killing a Hamas militant.
Tensions have run high along the Gaza border in recent weeks. Late last month an IDF officer who was killed in fighting on the edge of the enclave.
Four Terrorists Targeted This Morning were Heavily Armed
Earlier this morning, an IDF force identified a number of suspicious persons planting explosives along the security fence in the central Gaza Strip. The force fired at the suspects, and confirmed direct hits. Four militants were apparently killed and two injured as a result of the shooting.
The presence of Palestinian civilians in the area adjacent to the security fence in Gaza is used by terrorist organizations as cover for their activities, including planting explosive devices, planning terrorist attacks and attempts to kidnap IDF soldiers. For this reason, the IDF considers this a combat zone.
On March 26th, an IDF officer and an IDF soldier were killed and two soldiers were injured, during an exchange of fire with terrorists who were planting explosive devices along the security fence.
Approximately 350 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since Operation Cast Lead last year.
The IDF operates defensively on both sides of the Gaza Strip security fence on a routine and daily basis, in order to locate and thwart terrorist efforts and to ensure the safety of Israeli residents in the area.
The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the citizens of the State of Israel and will continue to operate resolutely against anyone who uses terror against it. The IDF holds Hamas as solely responsible for maintaining peace and quiet in the Gaza Strip and its surrounding area.