Israeli air strike kills three militants in Gaza

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The Independent Online

Israeli aircraft killed three Palestinian gunmen in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, medical officials and the Israeli army said.

Residents said the planes fired on a car in which the three men were travelling near the town of Khan Younis.

An Israeli military spokesman said the air strike was aimed at "a Hamas terrorist squad planning to kidnap Israelis over the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover."

Hamas, Gaza's Islamist rulers, confirmed the men were members of its armed wing, but denied they were planning a kidnapping and threatened reprisal. "The enemy will pay for this assassination crime," a statement said.

The air strike raised to 15 the number of people killed since a flare up of violence last month.

Israel and the Palestinians have signalled a readiness to return to a de facto ceasefire which has kept the border mostly quiet since the end of the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war.