The Associated Press
March 31, 2009 - 12:00am

Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed two Palestinian militants and wounded three in violence along the Gaza-Israel border, a Gaza health official said, in one of the worst flare-ups since Israel's ended its offensive in the territory more than two months ago.

An IDF soldier was lightly wounded in the fighting, the military said.

Palestinian witnesses reported hearing two explosions from the border area in the central Gaza Strip, after which Israeli helicopters hovered over the fence and fired at targets inside Gaza.

Troops spotted four militants planting explosive devices along the fence, and the Israeli soldier was wounded in the ensuing gunbattle, the military said. The troops called in an airstrike that successfully targeted the armed men, the military said, and later uncovered weapons that included grenades and an anti-tank missile.

Medical crews evacuated the bodies of two Palestinian men in military uniforms from the border, according to Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of Gaza's Health Ministry.

Three other militants were wounded, Hassanain said, two in the initial clash and a third in a subsequent Israeli missile strike.

No Palestinian group immediately claimed the dead and wounded militants as its members. But Hamas, the Islamic group that has ruled the territory since 2007,
sent a text message to reporters saying the group's fighters fired 18 mortar shells at the Israeli troops in the vicinity of the clash.

Israel launched its Gaza offensive in late December in an attempt to halt years of rocket fire at Israeli towns and cripple Hamas. But rocket fire and sporadic fighting persisted along the border even after Israel ended the offensive Jan. 18.

Rocket fire has dropped off in recent weeks, and the border had been relatively quiet until Tuesday.

Palestinians in Gaza fired three Qassam rockets at the Western Negev Tuesday. No injuries or damage were reported.


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