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Israeli Troops Kill 3 Palestinian Militants on Gaza Border

Israeli forces have killed three Palestinian militants and seriously wounded a fourth in the Gaza Strip near the border with Israel. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, each side is accusing the other of violating the ceasefire reached at the end of the November.

The Israeli army says troops opened fire on a group of armed Palestinians who were planting explosives Saturday near Gaza's border fence with Israel. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which is the senior party in a Palestinian coalition government, confirmed that its fighters were killed while on a "mission for the jihad."

Hamas condemned Israel for the incident, which is putting further strain on a shaky five-month-old ceasefire. Earlier in the week, on Israeli Independence Day, Hamas fired a barrage of mortars and rockets across the border for the first time since the truce began. The group said it was pulling out of the truce after Israel killed nine Palestinians, mostly militants, in several raids in the West Bank.

The Hamas attack prompted Israel to change its policy and approve limited pinpoint strikes against Palestinians carrying out rocket or mortar attacks or planting bombs in Gaza. Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen.

"Israel will not sit idle while the Hamas-led terrorist government of the Palestinian Authority tries to reconcile terrorism together with the fruits that they get from the fact that they're part of the Palestinian unity government," she said.

Hamas joined a unity government with moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in March in a bid to end international sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas has criticized the attacks by Palestinian militants, saying they give Israel an excuse to invade Gaza. Saeb Erekat is a legislator from Fatah, the party headed by Mr. Abbas.

"Maintaining the ceasefire is a vital Palestinian interest and I hope people will adhere to this," he said.

But the Hamas military wing accuses Israel of violating the ceasefire and is promising revenge.