Palestinian militant group Hamas says two of its gunmen were killed in a clash with Israeli forces near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun early Friday.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the gunmen were shot in separate incidents as they approached Israeli soldiers conducting an operation in the area to prevent militants from firing rockets at Israel.

On Thursday, at least nine Palestinians, including five civilians, were killed during heavy fighting between Israeli forces and militants near the town of Kahn Yunis in southern Gaza.

Witnesses say Israeli forces backed by tanks and attack helicopters also destroyed several houses in the area that militants allegedly used for storing or hiding weapons.

Also on Thursday, militants launched a Katyusha that flew 17 kilometers to the outskirts of the Israeli city of Ashkelon - the furthest distance such a rocket has traveled. There were no casualties.

Several militant groups claimed responsibility for the rocket attack. Katyushas have a greater range than homemade Qassam rockets typically used by the militants.

In other news, Israel's Supreme Court Thursday rejected a petition from human rights groups to issue an injunction against further fuel cuts to the Gaza Strip. The court decided that reducing fuel supplies will not cause a humanitarian crisis, as argued by the petitioners.

Israeli officials say the fuel cuts, which began in October, are aimed at pressuring Palestinian militants in Gaza to stop firing homemade rockets into southern Israel.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.