An Israeli tank fired two shells at a group of Palestinians in the town of Beit Lahiya (search) in northern Gaza (search) on Thursday, killing two people, hospital officials said.

The two dead, who appeared to be children, were badly burned, and doctors were waiting for their families to identify them. Three other people, all of them civilians, were wounded in the explosions.

Israeli military sources said Israeli soldiers had fired shells at two militants trying to launch a homemade rocket into Israel and confirmed hitting the pair.

The strike was the ninth time Israel hit militants preparing to launch homemade rockets since it began a raid into northern Gaza last week to prevent rocket attacks on Israel.

The raid has so far killed 77 Palestinians.