Palestinians killed on Gaza beach by Israeli gunboats

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Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, the Israeli chief of staff, ordered an end to the shelling from land and sea, which had continued throughout the day in retaliation for Palestinian rocket fire into the western Negev. The army apologised for the incident, saying it "regretted the attack on innocent people".

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called a "bloody genocide" in Gaza and called on the international community, including the United States, Europe and the UN Security Council, to intervene.

Earlier yesterday, an Israeli air strike killed three gunmen. A military spokesman said they were hit minutes after firing a Qassam rocket into Israel.

Israeli forces had been alerted after Palestinian militants vowed to avenge Thursday's killing of Jamal Abu Samhadana, who headed the Hamas government's security forces in the Gaza Strip. Mr Abu Samhadana died with at least three members of the umbrella Popular Resistance Committee when warplanes hit a military training camp.

Abu Abir, a Popular Resistance Committee spokesman, said: "Our rockets will rain into the Zionist entity and our heroes will blow themselves up among their dirty bodies," he said.

Israel accused Mr Abu Samhadana of planning and ordering many of the rocket attacks which have pounded the Negev since Israel withdrew from Gaza last August.