Israeli helicopters fired into the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing one Palestinian gunman in what local residents said was the fiercest exchange between Israeli forces and terrorists since a November truce.
The residents said the helicopters fired at least two missiles at gunmen near the Jabalya refugee camp.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the helicopters fired at “suspicious movements” that were identified several times near the border fence where militants had been operating and trying to plant explosive devices.
Islamic Jihad said its militants and members of another group had been mounting an operation near the fence when the exchange of fire occurred.
A member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was killed in the exchange, Islamic Jihad said.
The residents said Israeli tanks had entered the area but the army denied this.
Since the agreed upon ceasefire between Israel and the various Palestinian groups went into effect last November, the Israeli Air Force has refrained from attacking in Gaza.
IDF sources said the use of helicopters in the attack does not indicate a change in Israel’s policy.
“We are continuously acting against terror cells that try to carry out attacks along the border fence,” a Southern Command officer said. “Usually it is the ground forces that operate in the area, but helicopters were used this case due to operational considerations. Anyone who approaches the security fence will be killed.”
On Monday Defense Minister Amir Peretz authorized the army to carry out limited operations just inside Gaza against terrorists attempting to plant explosive devices or fire Qassam rockets toward Israel.
Last Wednesday, Israeli troops shot at three armed men, killing one and wounding at least one other. The men were planting an explosive device near the Gaza border fence.
Israeli security sources say the armed wing of the Islamist Hamas movement has been digging tunnels and upgrading its rocket arsenal for a possible confrontation.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report