Israeli strikes in southeast Gaza Strip killed four Hamas militants on Wednesday afternoon, threatening the future of a shaky ceasefire, medical sources said.
The sources added that bodies of the four fighters were brought to a hospital in Khan Younis city in southern Gaza Strip, reported Xinhua.
Witnesses said that the fighters were killed during a series of air strikes, part of an Israeli army operation that started Wednesday morning in east of Khan Younis.
Hamas confirmed that the four fatalities were members of its armed wing and that they were killed while engaging the Israeli forces which infiltrated east of Khan Younis.
During the operation, Israeli tank shells destroyed a Palestinian house after the army evacuated the residents, according to the witnesses.
Prior to the house shelling, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a group of Palestinian fighters, but they escaped unharmed.
The witnesses said up to 40 Israeli soldiers, backed by three tanks and reconnaissance aircraft, entered the area through the security fence that separates the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Israel.
Security sources said that clashes erupted between Palestinian fighters, who watch the border, and the invading force. The sources added that a group of militants were besieged by the troops.
Hamas, which has been controlling the Gaza Strip since June last year, struck a six-month ceasefire with Israel in June.
The Egyptian-brokered truce became shaky last week following a series of Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip that killed six Hamas militants.
The Israeli strikes drew Palestinian rocket attacks into Israeli border towns in retaliation. This week, the violence started abating.
Also in the day, Hamas militant group rejected outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's warnings that his army is prepared for an unavoidable confrontation with Hamas.
"These statements are the commodities of the bankrupts who will quit soon," said Abu Obaida, spokesman for Izzideen al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas.
Olmert, who is a caretaker prime minister until parliamentary elections scheduled for February, made the statements when he toured Israeli communities near the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
For Hamas, Olmert's statements were sort of "personal propaganda," said Abu Obaida, adding that the Palestinian resistance "is preparing for the coming confrontation with the occupation."
"We don't have any choice but to confront, face and resist the occupation despite the poor capabilities we have," Abu Obaida added. Enditem