updated 11/16/2008 4:14:27 PM ET 2008-11-16T21:14:27

An Israeli airstrike killed four Palestinian militants as they were firing mortars at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday, Palestinian officials said, and militants elsewhere in Gaza fired rockets, wounding an Israeli.

The violence was the latest in a surge of spiraling clashes that have rocked a 5-month-old truce between Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers. Both sides say they would like to preserve the Egyptian-mediated truce, which is due to expire next month, but events over the past two weeks signal the opposite is happening.

The militants killed in the airstrike were from a small Hamas-allied group known as the Popular Resistance Committees. Abu Attaya, a spokesman for the group, said the four were firing mortars when they were killed.

Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the PRC, a said his group is pulling out of the truce.

After the strike, dozens of onlookers converged on the bodies of two of the dead men shouting "God is great." They then carried the bodies, one wrapped in a blanket, to a nearby civilian car.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum threatened retaliation. "Today's crime will not pass without punishment," he said.

At sundown a rocket launched from Gaza hit a house under construction in the battered Israeli border town of Sderot, slightly wounding a resident, police and media reports said.

Palestinians launched two other rockets earlier in the day. No one was hurt, the military said.

According to the Israeli military's count, Palestinians have sent more than 170 rockets and mortars flying at Israel since the violence resumed nearly two weeks ago. Israeli troops have killed 15 militants, and two more died in unclear circumstances. No civilians have been killed on either side.

Not giving up on cease-fire
Israeli leaders signaled they have not given up on the cease-fire. Speaking Sunday ahead of the Israeli Cabinet's weekly meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had told the military to present plans for "various operations against Hamas' terrorist regime" in Gaza, but gave no timeframe. "We are not eager for battle but we do not fear it," Olmert said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also indicated that Israel preferred the cease-fire. "I do not advise anyone to regret a single month of calm, and if the other side chooses calm we shall need to seriously consider it," he said.

In Gaza, the prime minister of the Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, said continuing the calm "depends on stopping the aggression against our people, opening the border crossings and all the terms of the calm."

Israel has sealed Gaza's border crossings since the latest fighting erupted, barring badly needed goods and fuel from entering the impoverished territory. U.N. food supplies in Gaza have been depleted and the fuel cutoff has led to power shortages.

Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, and Israel imposed a closure on the strip to weaken the hardline group. Egypt has also kept its border crossing with Gaza closed. The blockade was relaxed slightly after the truce began last June, but the crossings have been closed for brief periods after occasional rocket attacks.

Hamas trying to exploit situation?
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni charged that Hamas was trying to exploit the humanitarian situation to garner world support. "I would expect the international community to support the Israeli position on this," she said. "Israel cannot just sit and watch our citizens under attack."

Olmert is set to meet on Monday with Hamas' rival, moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for another in a series of talks on peace negotiations.

An Abbas aide said the Palestinian leader would "urge the prime minister to make every effort not to let things slide, to avoid further suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Although Abbas no longer controls Gaza, he still claims to be the legitimate leader and representative of the area's 1.4 million people.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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