July 28, 2007 / 12:56 PM / 12 years ago

Israeli troops kill two Palestinian gunmen in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers killed two Gaza militants from an arm of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Saturday as they tried to launch an attack on Israel from the coastal strip, the militant group said.

Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of 20-year-old Palestinian Jihad Khalil al-Sha'er in the West Bank Village of Taquo, south of Bethlehem, July 27, 2007. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun

A spokesman for Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said the thwarted attack was meant to send a signal that the group had no intention of abiding by the platform of Abbas’s new government in the occupied West Bank.

Led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the new government dropped the phrase “armed resistance” from its platform on Friday, angering Hamas Islamists and other militants in Gaza.

Abbas lost control of the coastal strip last month when Hamas routed his secular Fatah forces. Abbas responded by sacking a Hamas-led government and appointing Fayyad’s.

“Our message is that the Zionist occupation is continuing its aggression and therefore the resistance will continue,” said Abu Thaer, a spokesman for the al-Aqsa Marytrs Brigades in Gaza.

“We tell Fayyad that his platform is a political platform. Palestine was occupied militarily and we will liberate it militarily,” the spokesman added.

A statement issued by Islamic Jihad said: “If Fayyad rejects the choice of resistance, he should pick another people to represent.”

The Israeli army said its soldiers opened fire on the two al-Aqsa militants near the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and identified hitting them.

“They were planting an explosive device near the fence,” an army spokeswoman said.

Al-Aqsa said the two militants were trying to plant bombs and fire mortars into Israel.

Israeli troops often shoot at Palestinians who approach the Gaza border with Israel to try to prevent armed infiltrations. Israel also conducts raids in the area to try to stop militants from launching rockets and mortars into Israel.

Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza has stirred fears in Israel of a big increase in attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared last week to rule out a major military incursion for now. Israel is under pressure from the United States and the European Union to restart long-stalled peace talks.

In a bid to bolster Abbas, Israel has recently renewed a measure of security cooperation with his forces in the West Bank, agreed to stop pursuing some 180 wanted Fatah fighters and released 255 Palestinian prisoners from its jails.

Under a deal between Israel, Egypt and Fayyad’s government, thousands of Palestinians who have been stranded in Egypt since Hamas’s takeover on June 14 will be allowed back into Gaza starting on Sunday, Palestinian officials said on Saturday.

An aide to Abbas said 100 Palestinians would cross into the West Bank from Jordan on Sunday, from where they would be taken to the Gaza Strip. Others would follow later, Abbas aide Nabil Amr said.

Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Wafa Amr in Ramallah

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