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The Israel Defense Forces foiled an attempt to lay a roadside bomb at the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel yesterday, killing two militants. It was the first such incident since the IDF withdrew from Gaza at the end of Operation Cast Lead in January.

Also yesterday, three Qassam rockets were fired on Israel from the Strip, the most in a single day since the Israeli offensive.

Hamas claimed that it fired 18 mortar shells at Israeli forces near the Kissufim crossing after the two Palestinians were killed.

The incident occurred at about 7:30 A.M. when an observation post identified four Palestinians moving toward the fence, north of Kissufim. A unit of the Golani Brigade rushed to the area, crossed the fence in two spots and opened fire at the Palestinians.

The commander of the force also called in a helicopter gunship, which fired at the Palestinians who by now had been identified as armed militants. The battle intensified when both sides began firing mortar shells.

The two killed Palestinians were members of the Popular Resistance Committees, and two others were injured but managed to escape. With the bodies the soldiers found large quantities of arms and ammunition.

An Israeli soldier suffered injuries as a result of Palestinian fire and was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.

Yesterday's incident was the most serious involving Israeli forces and Palestinian militants since the roadside bomb two months ago that killed one IDF scout and injured three more as they patrolled the fence area.

"There was calm along the fence for the past month," an officer in one of the units nearby said, "but it's clear that Hamas and other groups continue to plan to try to attack us. This incident proves that."

After the gun battle, three Qassam rockets were fired at the western Negev. Two of them exploded in open fields at Sdot Negev and another near Sderot. No damage or injuries were reported.

The rocket attack came less than an hour after Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai had completed a briefing on the results of Operation Cast Lead at a conference of the regional council.

Vilnai was critical about the way the negotiations over captured soldier Gilad Shalit have been handled.

"If it was possible to free Gilad Shalit in a military operation we would have done so long ago, but it is not possible. We need to bring Shalit back as quickly as possible, and they should not tell us tall tales that it is not possible."

Addressing the heads of the local communities, GOC Southern Command Yoav Gallant said that "you too know the area and you have carried out difficult operations there, and are certain that the IDF is behind you and would do everything to bring you back [if you were imprisoned]. This is what we have to do in the case of Gilad Shalit."

Home Front Commander Yair Golan also spoke at the conference and addressed reports of immoral behavior by soldiers during battle.

"We are in an age in which rumor becomes fact ... and thus we construct myths," the major general said. "I moved around the various command centers during the operation and I watched as officers and soldiers followed a tight moral code and avoided harming civilians."