Four Hamas militants were killed in clashes with Israeli troops in central Gaza early Thursday near the border with Israel, the army and Hamas officials said.
The army said its troops were on a routine activity about 1 kilometer (less than 1 mile) inside the Gaza Strip when it identified armed fighters approaching the force and opened fired at them from the air and from troops on the ground. The army said it has been conducting similar patrols in recent days in search of rocket launching locations.
Hamas spokesman Abu Obaida said Hamas fighters discovered an undercover Israeli unit and opened fire on it. The incident took place close to the Bureij refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, an area that is a frequent location of battle between gunmen and the Israeli army.
Hospital officials confirmed at least four dead and four others injured. Hamas TV said all four belonged to the organization. Among the dead was Mohammed Siam, 37, the Hamas field commander in central Gaza, Hamas TV said.
Witnesses reported a heavy exchange of fire as Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved in and Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants took up positions on rooftops and laid land mines against the Israeli soldiers.
Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, a Palestinian Health Ministry official in Gaza, said Israeli troops stopped a Palestinian ambulance dispatched to the scene, detaining its driver and a nurse. The army denied the change, saying only one ambulance was near the fighting and was allowed to operate freely.