JERUSALEM -- At least four Palestinian gunmen using an armored vehicle and grenade launchers broke through Israel's border fence from Gaza yesterday and fought a gunbattle with Israeli soldiers, while Israeli troops entered Gaza near the southern town of Rafah to search for weapons and tunnels used to smuggle arms and explosives from Egypt.
One of the Palestinian gunmen was shot dead after the armored vehicle, labeled "TV," crashed through the border fence at the old Kissufim crossing, near Deir el Balah, according to the Israeli army. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, Abu Ahmed, said three of the four gunmen had returned to Gaza, and the intention had been to try to capture an Israeli soldier.
The battle lasted two to three hours, but no Israeli was wounded or captured, the Israeli army said.
The attack evoked the Hamas raid into Israel a year ago in which several Israeli soldiers were killed and another, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was captured. He is being held somewhere in Gaza. Negotiations for a prisoner exchange have been intermittent but have faltered over Hamas' demands for prisoners Israel does not want to release.
Ahmed told Gaza radio stations that four militants had broken through the Gaza border fence. "It is difficult to storm," he said. "But when they entered in a surprise, they confused the enemy."
He said the raid was carried out with the help of members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with Fatah.
The intention, he said afterward, was to kidnap an Israeli soldier, but the mission failed.
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that "four or five gunmen infiltrated through the border fence into Israel." They approached an Israeli army post, and there was a gunbattle in which the Israelis confirmed shooting one man and killing him.
Abu Ali, a spokesman for the Al Aqsa brigades, said the gunmen used an armored jeep with U.N. markings to ram the border post. The Israeli Army, which has the jeep, said it was marked "TV," the standard way that the news media signify their vehicles.
Islamic Jihad, a small but radical military group supported largely by Iran, has always rejected any sort of cease-fire with Israel and carried out all four successful suicide bombing attacks in Israel last year.
Earlier yesterday, Israeli tanks and troops made another incursion into the southern Gaza Strip, engaging members of the military wing of Hamas and killing at least one of them, according to the army, Hamas and Israel Radio.
The Israeli troops moved at least a mile into Gaza just east of the city of Rafah. The troops called on male residents over the age of 16 to surrender themselves for questioning, according to the Palestinian National Security Forces, one of the Palestinian police groups.