IDF tank near Gaza border - Emil Salman
IDF tank near Gaza border. Photo by Emil Salman
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Israel Defense Forces soldiers open fired on a group of Palestinian militants attempting to lay explosive on the Gaza Strip border early Sunday morning.

The Islamic Jihad militant group said two of its gunmen were killed by Israeli fire after they detonated an explosive device against a passing Israeli patrol on the southern birder.

An IDF spokeswoman said the troops, later backed up by helicopters, confirmed hitting the militants who had tried to attack them.

There has been a surge of violence along the Israel-Gaza border this month, although Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip both have said they do not want an escalation.

"Hamas is responsible for whatever happens in Gaza," the IDF said in its statement, reiterating Israel's position that the leaders of the coastal territory must maintain calm in the Strip.

This latest incident comes on the heels of a Hamas press conference held on Saturday, when the armed wing of the group warned Israel against launching any new military action in the strip.

Ahmed al-Jabari, leader of the Izz a-din al-Qassam Brigades, said that Israel had two options - to leave Palestine or face death.

The press conference was held to commemorate the second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, a three-week IDF incursion aimed at halting rocket fire on Israel's southern communities from the strip.

On Friday, a top Hamas official gave a contradictory message to the one presented on Saturday, saying that the group was committed to a ceasefire with Israel.

Mahmoud Zahar said on Friday "We are committed to self-restraint as long as there is no oppression and no aggression."

Rocket fire from Gaza and IDF attacks on targets in the strip has increased in the past few weeks.

Israel Air Force warplanes carried out three airstrikes late Friday against suspected smuggling tunnels on the border between southern Gaza and Egypt. An IDF spokesman confirmed the three air raids, saying the strikes were in response to a homemade rocket fired earlier Friday by Gaza militant groups at southern Israel.

Last week, one Palestinian was killed and three were wounded in the northern Gaza Strip when they approached the border fence at a point Israel has declared off limits, Gaza medical officials said.

An IDF spokeswoman said troops had spotted four suspicious figures and shot at them when they did not heed orders to leave the area.

Gaza hospital sources said 13 Palestinians had been killed in cross-border hostilities with Israeli forces this month.

Also last week, an Israeli teenage girl was lightly wounded when a Qassam rocket exploded in an open field near a kindergarten in the Ashkelon area.