GAZA, (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead three Hamas militants and critically wounded another near Gaza’s border fence with Israel on Saturday in what the army said was a thwarted attack, casting fresh doubt on a shaky ceasefire.
In a separate incident in southern Gaza, a Palestinian civilian was killed on Friday night by what local medics and residents said was an Israeli tank shell. The Israeli army said it was not involved.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel of violating a shaky ceasefire in Gaza and said the Islamist militant group has the right to respond by “all means available”.
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed the shooting near the central border fence that killed the three Hamas militants. She said the soldiers had opened fire on four Palestinian militants as they were placing explosive devices.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the Hamas armed wing, said the four militants were on a “jihadist mission when the Zionist enemy opened fire on them”. “The occupation has no interest in calm and from our side we say there is no calm for free. The Zionist enemy will be punished for their crimes,” Abu Ubaida said.
The armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement broke a five-month-old ceasefire this week by firing rockets into Israel in response to the killing of nine Palestinians by Israeli forces last weekend. It later agreed to resume the ceasefire, halting rocket attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided in talks with security chiefs on Wednesday to step up “targeted attacks” against Palestinian rocket-launching crews, but he ruled out for now a major incursion into the coastal strip.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the group would reassess its strategy in one to two months if international sanctions against the Palestinian government were not lifted. Haniyeh leads a unity government with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.