Three members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the militant armed offshoot of the Fatah movement, were killed in an Israeli helicopter attack in Gaza City early yesterday, medical and security sources said.
It was the first deadly Israeli attack in Gaza since the victory of the Islamist Hamas movement in Palestinian general elections on Jan. 25.
The Israeli attack destroyed a center in Gaza City belonging to the Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas which was used as a base by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and the activists' car near by, witnesses said.
One of the activists, Hani al Kayad, 25, was wounded in the building and taken by his comrades Yassin Bargut and Nasser Mashud to the car which was hit by a second strike as it headed for a hospital.
Eight other Palestinians were wounded, one of whom was in serious condition, doctors said. Four of them were members of the security service based opposite the Fatah offices.
The helicopters first fired three rockets at the offices then two more at the car in which the three Brigades members were trying to flee the building.
An Israeli F16 fighter jet meanwhile fired two missiles at a bridge near Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip, damaging it but without claiming any victims, a security source said.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the two raids.
"Our aircraft attacked an al-Aqsa Brigades base in retaliation for repeated rocket attacks that culminated in Friday's attack," he said.
But it was another group, Islamic Jihad, that claimed a rocket attack on Israel on Friday which wounded four people, including a new-born baby, declaring that the radical Palestinian group wanted to "defend the Prophet" Mohammed who has been portrayed in cartoons in European newspapers.
A rocket exploded in a house where former settlers from the Gaza Strip were living in Karmia in the south of Israel.
Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over the north of the Gaza Strip early yesterday warning Palestinians to leave the area, an Israeli security official said.
The leaflets said that "from [yesterday] it is totally forbidden to be in the sector north of the line linking Atarah, Beit Layah and Beit Hanoun up to the Erez roadblock."
"For your safety you are asked not to be in this sector, or you will seriously place your life in danger," the leaflets said according to the official.
The latest deaths bring the toll since the start of the second intifada in September 2000 to 4,942, three-quarters of them Palestinians.
In Jerusalem yesterday, a Palestinian assailant went on a stabbing rampage on board a minibus in central Israel, killing one woman and wounding four others, in what police said was a politically motivated attack.
Witnesses said the vehicle was traveling in the central Israeli city of Petach Tikva when the attacker stood up and began stabbing passengers."
"He jumped on people and started to stab them," said one witness, who gave only his first name Benny. "Police ran after him and caught him ... There are lots of blood stains on the road."
Other witnesses said an angry crowd subdued the man on board the yellow bus before police took him away.
"They pummeled him. It was a great mess," a witness, identified as Moshe, told Israel Army Radio.
Police said one woman was killed. Israel's national rescue service said four others were wounded, three of them women, and all were in moderate to serious condition.