Five Hamas militants, including two commanders involved in rocket attacks, were killed today when an Israeli aircraft blew up a minivan in southern Gaza.
The strike was the latest incident in intensifying violence between Hamas and Israel, which sees daily rocket attacks on Israeli communities near Gaza and regular Israeli military raids targeting the rocket squads.
The violence came as a new poll showed nearly two-thirds of Israelis supporting cease-fire talks with Hamas.
After today’s attack, burned bodies in camouflage uniforms were visible in the white minivan. Two other Hamas members were wounded in the airstrike, according to Hamas and Dr Moaiya Hassanain of the Gaza Health Ministry.
Minutes after the first explosion, an Israeli missile struck another car nearby.
Witnesses said the militants had abandoned that vehicle for the white minivan shortly before the strike.
There were no casualties in the second attack.
“This is a new Israeli crime. It shows the bloody-mindedness of the occupation,” said Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu.
The Israeli military confirmed the strikes, which it said targeted vehicles transporting militants.
The body of another Palestinian militant killed in central Gaza overnight was brought to the hospital in Gaza on Wednesday morning.
The Islamic Jihad group said the man was one of its gunmen who had been killed in a clash with the Israeli military.
The army said a militant approached the Gaza-Israel border fence and that soldiers had seen an explosion, likely caused by explosives the militant was carrying.
Meanwhile, a poll published in an Israeli paper today indicated that a majority of Israelis now believe the government should hold talks with Hamas.
Israel has been working to isolate Hamas since the Islamic group came to power in Gaza in June 2007, and has said talks with the group won’t be possible until it recognises Israel, renounces violence and observes signed peace agreements.
Hamas has been labelled a terror organisation by Israel, the US and EU.
But the poll, published in the Haaretz daily, showed that 64% of Israelis believe Israel should talk to Hamas now to bring a halt to the rocket fire and to win the release of a captured soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit.
Cpl Shalit, was seized in June 2006 by Hamas militants and has been held in Gaza since then as talks on a prisoner swap have stalled.
Only 28% of Israelis reject talks with Hamas, according to the poll. The poll included 500 respondents and had a margin of error of 4%.
Several Hamas officials have proposed a truce with Israel, but in the short term, that possibility seemed unlikely given the recent violence.