GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian youths in the northern Gaza Strip close to the border with Israel and an air strike killed a militant in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical staff said on Friday.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops had shot at suspicious figures trying to plant an object close to the border fence and that they reported hitting three people, two of whom were evacuated by Palestinian ambulances.
A militant on a motorcycle was targeted from the air and was killed by a missile near the town of Khan Younis in the southern part of the strip, the Islamic Jihad militant group and the Israeli army said.
It was the first Palestinian death in an air strike for three days. Nobody was hurt in an earlier air strike at rocket launchers.
Islamic Jihad named the dead militant as Fadi Abu Mustafa. An Israeli army spokeswoman said he was the target of the attack and that he had was involved in actions against Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip.
Medical staff at a Gaza hospital said the boys who were killed earlier were aged 12 and 13. They had been hit in the chest. They were reported to be scouring the area for scrap metal.
“We know that a number of Palestinians crawled towards the border fence ... They did not heed repeated calls to stop and they planted a suspicious device close to the fence,” the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman said that a third 16-year-old youth, who was lightly wounded, was being treated at an Israeli hospital.
She added that since the beginning of 2007, the army had recorded 64 separate cases of Palestinians planting or trying to plant explosive devices close to the border fence with Israel.
In the past two weeks Palestinian militants have fired more than 270 rockets from Gaza, killing two Israelis. Israel has responded to the rocket fire by launching air strikes targeting Hamas facilities, commanders and rocket crews.
Nearly 50 Palestinians have been killed so far, most of them fighters. Israel has also carried out limited ground operations.
The army said that on Friday eight rockets had been launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
An Israeli government official told Reuters that Palestinian militant organizations were deliberately putting children and youth in harm’s way by using them to plant explosive devices near Israeli positions.
“It is common practice by Palestinian terror organizations to cynically utilize their own youth to perpetrate terror against Israel. They have no qualms about using these youth as human shields and conduits,” the official, David Baker, said.
An aide to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the youngsters were not involved in any militant actions.
“The children were in a Palestinian area, close to the beach and they posed no danger to anyone. They were shot and killed without mercy,” Mohammed al-Madhoun said.
“Our children are very dear to us and we urge the international community to compel the occupation to stop its crimes against children and innocent Palestinians,” he added.
The two boys were buried later on Friday evening with hundreds of Gazans marching and chanting in the funeral procession.
Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem