An Israeli air strike on a car killed two militants and wounded two other men on a crowded Gaza street Thursday, the Israeli army and local medical officials said.
The men were identified as Essam Al-Batsh and Sobhi Al-Batsh, relatives initially identified as brothers.
Hundreds of Palestinians crowded around the charred remains of the car, which was hit in the bright afternoon sunshine on a main urban thoroughfare.
Video footage taken minutes after the strike showed the passenger compartment of the car wrecked and on fire with little damage to the immediate surrounding area.
A Hamas spokesman described the attack as a crime and accused Israel of ratcheting up violence in the area.
“We hold the government of the Zionist occupation (Israel) fully responsible for this crime and for the new escalation,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. Hamas gave no other details.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed an air strike had been carried out. She said the two men killed in the incident had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians and soldiers along Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
“(They) were affiliated with a terrorist squad that intended to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers via the western border,” an army statement said.
Hamas, an Islamist group hostile to Israel, has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, while President Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.
The army statement said that Essam had been involved in planning a suicide bombing in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat in 2007 in which three Israeli civilians were killed, and a number of other attacks, some of which had been stopped.
Essam was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’s Fatah movement, group officials said. The Islamist group Hamas said Sobhi was affiliated with its own armed wing.
Violence between Israel and Gaza militants has abated slightly recently, although Wednesday Israeli troops killed one Islamic Jihad gunman and wounded another in a rare cross-border incursion, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Islamic Jihad is at times allied with Gaza’s Hamas rulers but the group has chafed at recent efforts by the more powerful faction to impose de facto truces across the coastal territory.
Hamas and Israel carried out an Egyptian- and German-brokered prisoner swap in mid-October that stirred expectations of a possible broader accommodation, although the governing Islamist movement spurns permanent peace with the Jewish state.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem Editing by Maria Golovnina
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