Israeli troops opened fire on a car Wednesday, killing four Palestinian militants, Palestinian medical officials said, throwing doubt on prospects for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Associated Press Television News video showed medical officials loading the bodies of the men into an ambulance. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Palestinian security officials said one of the dead was the commander of Islamic Jihad in the Bethlehem area, Mohammed Shehadeh, and two others were also members of Islamic Jihad. The fourth belonged to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah.
Israel Radio reported that the car was filled with arms and explosives, and the fugitives opened fire on the Israeli special forces. The report said the four had been on Israel's wanted list since 2000.
Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam in Gaza denounced the Israeli raid. "This new crime reflects the true face of the occupation," he said. "Killing still continues while they are talking about the possibility of bringing calm, but if they think that calm means Palestinian surrender, they are mistaken."
Before the attack, the leader of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip called for a cease-fire with Israel. Among his conditions was a halt to Israeli military operations in the West Bank, where Gaza militants have claimed the right to retaliate against Israel for its operations there.
Egypt and the United States have been trying to broker an agreement to stop daily rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and halt Israeli reprisal raids in Gaza. Other elements would be reopening the Gaza-Egypt border crossing and easing restrictions on shipments of vital products from Israel into Gaza. For several days, violence has significantly dropped.
A truce would end weeks of cross-border fighting that has killed dozens of people, nearly all of them Palestinians.
"We are talking about a mutual comprehensive calm, which means that the enemy must fulfill its obligations," Gaza's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a speech at Gaza's Islamic University. "The Israelis must stop the aggression ... including assassinations and invasions, end the sanctions and open the borders."
Haniyeh used the word "tahdia," or calm, to describe the informal cease-fire he sought. He avoided use of another word often used in Arabic, "hudna," which is interpreted as a more formal truce. Both terms denote a temporary cease-fire rather than a permanent peace, but even the subtle differences between the words has led to fierce debate among Arabs in past cease-fire efforts.
Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist and is sworn to its destruction.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who runs a rival government in the West Bank, is conducting peace talks with Israel that do not include Hamas.
With U.S. backing, Egypt has been trying to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas following an especially bloody round of fighting that killed five Israelis and more than 120 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians.
"There are efforts by the Egyptian brothers who are working on this issue. We as Palestinians are waiting for the Israeli answers," Haniyeh said. "The ball is in Israel's court."