Five Palestinian militants were killed as Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip late on Saturday, Israel’s military and Palestinian sources said.
Warplanes hit central Gaza to take out a squad of militants about to fire rockets at Israel, the military said.
The strike was one of the most deadly since Israel’s 22-day war against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, which began at the end of December 2008 and cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.
Witnesses contacted by AFP said armed men preparing an attack on Israel were killed in the raid, while medics gave a death toll of five “martyrs”. The raid targeted Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, they said.
Security services of the Hamas Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip confirmed that the five Palestinians, all aged around 20, died in an Israeli air raid and were to be buried on Sunday.
The witnesses said the dead militants, former members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or the Committees of Popular Resistance, belonged to one of the radical Salafist groups in Gaza that have recently stepped up attacks against Israel.
The Israeli army said in a statement that a warplane had “identified and hit a team of terrorist agents preparing to launch rockets at Israeli territory from the central Gaza Strip.”
Israel regularly hits sites in the Gaza Strip from which rockets are fired across the border into Israel. Since Operation Cast Lead the number of rocket attacks has dropped considerably, but the Israeli army has said more than 200 rockets or shells, mostly home-made, have been fired since the start of 2010.