Israeli forces on Wednesday attacked a group of suspected Palestinian militants believed to have been planting a bomb along Gaza's border with the Jewish state, the Israeli military said. Palestinian officials said two people were killed and two wounded.
Gaza's militant Hamas rulers said the victims were all civilians and said it held Israel responsible, raising the prospect of a new exchange of attacks across the volatile border.
"The Ministry of Interior and all its security forces are ready to deal with any new escalation," said Ihab Ghussein, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
The Israeli military said aircraft and tanks participated in the attack after the militants were spotted along the border. "An explosion was identified, originating from the explosive device the terrorists attempted to plant," it said.
Gaza's Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said two people, one of them a 17-year-old youth, were killed. Two other men were wounded. He said the victims were unarmed, and relatives of the dead men said they were setting traps for birds near the buffer zone.
No militant group claimed them as members.
Hamas, a militant Islamist group that opposes peace with Israel, has controlled Gaza since taking over the territory from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Israel and Hamas have largely honored a truce since a fierce Israeli military offensive in Gaza three years ago. Smaller militant groups continue to battle Israel along the border, and fire rockets into southern Israel.
Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the seaside strip.
Also Wednesday, Israel's parliament speaker said he received an apology from the International Parliamentary Union after a Hamas official attended a meeting of the Swiss-based organization.
Legislator Mushir al-Masri was part of a Palestinian delegation that spoke at the union's human rights committee last week about Hamas lawmakers detained by Israel.
Israel objected because the militant group has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks over the years. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the EU. and U.S.
The union's secretary-general, Anders Johnsson, confirmed sending a letter to Israeli Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin. He told Rivlin Hamas was not invited to participate, and al-Masri had attended as part of a nongovernment group's delegation.
Rivlin says he accepted Johnsson's apology.
Josef Federman and Diaa Hadid contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
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