Two suspected Palestinian militants died and an Israeli soldier was wounded late on Saturday in an exchange of gunfire near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, the Israeli army announced.
Soldiers spotted the two Palestinians near the security barrier separating Israel from Gaza and opened fire, killing them after a gun battle lasting about 20 minutes, an army spokesman said.
“During searches at the scene, shots were fired at the force, apparently resulting in the injury of one of the soldiers,” an army statement said.
Israeli soldiers fired back. There were no further casualties on their side.
The injured soldier was evacuated by helicopter.
Palestinian witnesses told reporters they saw armed men exchange fire with Israeli soldiers before two Israeli tanks and two armored troop carriers entered about 100m into the Palestinian zone.
Earlier on Saturday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel without causing casualties or damage, an Israeli military spokesman said.
Gaza-based Palestinian militants have fired about 200 rockets and mortars into Israel this year. Eight attacks have been recorded in the past week.
Clashes along the barrier dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip have increased in past weeks and the army statement said there had been about 100 “terror-related incidents” there since the beginning of the year.
The army blamed Hamas, the party that controls the Gaza Strip, and warned it will “continue to respond harshly to any attempt to use terror against the state of Israel.”
On Dec. 2, two fighters from Islamic Jihad were killed as they approached the border.
Israel’s military commander Gaby Ashkenazi has said the security situation along the border remains fragile, with the army saying armed Palestinian groups are equipped with anti-tank rockets.
On Friday, two Palestinian teenagers were killed in a blast in Gaza City thought to be caused by an unexploded Israeli tank shell, medical and security sources said.
They said the shell was most likely left over from Israel’s 22-day war against Gaza’s Islamist rulers, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, which began at the end of December 2008 and cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.
The latest violence comes as weeks of efforts by Washington to save the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appear to have failed.
The US was unable to persuade Israel to renew a freeze on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.