Violence continues along Israel-Gaza border leaving two Palestinians dead

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes and Hamas fired its first cross-border rocket barrages in more than a year as fighting along the Israel-Gaza frontier flared on yesterday for a second day.

The confrontation initially appeared to fit a familiar pattern of Israeli strikes against small squads of Gaza militants and rockets launched toward sparsely populated areas in southern Israel near the border.

But the surprise decision by the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers to re-engage militarily with Israel after months of staying on the sidelines and discouraging smaller militant groups from firing rockets held the prospect of wider conflict.

Since Monday, Israeli air strikes have killed six Palestinians, at least four of them militants. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the attacks prompted the group's military wing "to take a firm stance" and launch rockets.

Israeli security officials said at least 14 rockets were fired at southern Israel yesterday, causing no casualties.

On Monday, before the Gaza flare-up, militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt's Sinai desert fired on Israelis building a barrier on that frontier, killing one worker.

In a video recording obtained by Reuters in Gaza, a group of masked men claimed responsibility for the Sinai incident on behalf of what they said was a newly formed Islamic movement, "The Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land".