GAZA, (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed four Palestinians, three of them Hamas militants, on Friday in the worst upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip for weeks, residents said.
The bloodshed added to tension in the densely populated coastal territory that has also been beset by clashes between forces from the governing Hamas Islamist group and loyalists of moderate President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.
Israel launched its offensive in the Gaza Strip in late June to try to recover a captured soldier and put a stop to cross-border rocket fire.
Palestinians said an Israeli missile struck a car in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, killing three Hamas gunmen. Among the dead was a local commander. The army said it was checking the reports.
Earlier, a Palestinian woman was shot outside her home in southern Gaza. The army said soldiers searching for tunnels had fired at two gunmen in the area, hitting both of them.
Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel for the first time in one month on Thursday as nine Palestinians, including at least three Hamas militants, were killed.
Almost 240 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed since Israel launched its offensive in Gaza. Israeli troops had pulled out of the territory a year ago after 38 years of occupation.
There was also sporadic fighting in Gaza between rival gunmen loyal to Hamas and Fatah after a local Hamas leader and a member of a Fatah-dominated intelligence service were killed in separate incidents on Thursday.
The worst internal fighting in a decade has stoked fears of civil war after talks between Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas over a unity government broke down.
The current government is struggling under a U.S.-led aid embargo designed to force Hamas to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace agreements with Israel.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Syria, said late on Thursday that the group sees no political gain in recognising Israel and will resist doing so despite the embargo. Hamas’s charter calls for Israel’s destruction.