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.