GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli forces killed three Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday and the Israeli military said they were trying to plant explosives near a border fence when they were attacked.
The incident followed the killing a day earlier of three militants in an air strike which the military said foiled their attempt to fire rockets from the central Gaza Strip into Israel.
Villagers who knew the men killed in Thursday's attack said they belonged to a small Islamist militant group known as Homat al-Aqsa. Their bodies were taken to a local hospital.
"Soldiers targeted a terrorist squad that was planting an explosive device near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip," the military said in a statement.
Hamas, an Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, confirmed their deaths and said one of the men, lying wounded, had used his cellular telephone to summon an ambulance but Israeli fire prevented the vehicle from approaching and he died.
An Israeli military spokesman said the ambulances had arrived at the scene without prior coordination and were kept away for their own safety because troops were still in action. He said they were permitted to proceed after the soldiers left.
Hamas is hostile to Israel but has largely refrained in recent years from launching cross-border rocket attacks. Israel has said that as Gaza's ruler, Hamas bears overall responsibility for any strikes from the territory carried out by other groups.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)