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Four Gaza militants killed in retaliatory air strike

An Israeli air strike killed four Palestinians launching mortars at Israel, Palestinian officials say.

GAZA CITY // An Israeli air strike killed four Palestinians launching mortars at Israel from the Gaza Strip today, Palestinian officials said, just hours after another group of militants struck Israel in a separate rocket attack. The violence was the latest in a surge of spiralling clashes that have rocked a five-month-old truce between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers. Both sides say they would like to preserve the truce, which is due to expire next month, but events over the past 12 days signal that the opposite is happening.

The militants killed in the air strike were from a small Hamas-allied group known as the Popular Resistance Committees. A spokesman for the group calling himself Abu Attaya said the four were firing mortars into Israel when they were killed. The Israeli military said the air strike targeted a rocket squad in northern Gaza. Palestinians launched two rockets earlier in the day into Israel, hitting near a community on the Israel-Gaza border. No one was hurt, the military said.

According to the military's count, Palestinians have sent more than 170 rockets and mortars flying into Israel since the violence resumed nearly two weeks ago. Israeli troops have killed 15 militants, and two more died in unclear circumstances. No civilians have been killed on either side. Israel is keeping its crossings into Gaza shut because of the ongoing rocket fire, barring badly needed goods and fuel from entering the impoverished territory.

UN food supplies in Gaza have been depleted and the fuel cut-off has led to power shortages. The Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said officials would decide later today whether to reopen them. International pressure to crack open the passages has been mounting. Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, and Israel imposed a closure on the strip to weaken the hardline group. Egypt has also kept its border crossing with Gaza closed. The blockade was relaxed slightly after the truce began in June 2008, but the crossings were slammed shut again because of the new clashes.

*AP

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