4 killed in Gaza clashes

2010-03-26 22:13

Jerusalem - Two Israeli soldiers, including an officer, and two Palestinians were killed in an exchange of fire near the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, an army spokesperson said.

"An officer and a soldier were killed and two others slightly wounded in an exchange of fire with terrorists planting explosives along the security fence in southern Gaza," the spokesman said in a statement.

He said two Palestinian militants were also killed in the clash.

Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza, earlier claimed responsibility for an attack in which it said two Israeli soldiers were killed.

Its fighters had "exchanged fire with a special unit of the Zionist army which carried out an incursion into Khan Yunis," Ezzedine al-Qassam said in a statement.

Israel patrol targeted

Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of another militant group, Islamic Jihad, also reported a gunfight with Israeli soldiers.

Before Israeli censorship was lifted on the deaths, Al-Arabiya television said an Israeli patrol along the frontline was targeted in a bomb attack. The two soldiers and two Palestinians died in a subsequent gunfight.

There had been an attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the incident near the Gaza town of Khan Yunis, it said.

In earlier violence, four Palestinians were seriously wounded by shrapnel from Israeli tank fire as helicopters hovered overhead, Palestinian medical sources and witnesses said.

Rocket in empty field

One helicopter fired a rocket on Palestinian fighters, said the witnesses.

On Friday morning, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants had fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip into Israel without causing any casualties or damage. The rocket apparently struck an empty field.

Gaza militants have stepped up rocket fire, including a projectile that killed a Thai farm labourer on March 18.

About 35 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the beginning of the year, and more than 330 since the end of a 22-day Israeli offensive in January 2009.

Israel routinely responds to rocket attacks with air strikes targeting smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border and workshops which Israel says are used to make rockets.