GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian gunmen broke through Israel's heavily-fortified Gaza border and battled troops inside Israel for about two hours Saturday, in an abortive attempt to abduct an Israeli soldier in which one of the raiders was killed but the military said no soldiers were harmed.
It was the first cross-border incursion since militants killed two soldiers and abducted a third a year ago.
The Israel military said troops shot dead one of the raiders. Palestinians said another three militants escaped back to Gaza unharmed.
The Islamic Jihad group said it carried out Saturday's attack, near the Kissufim crossing between Gaza and Israel, along with the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.
Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said that four militants broke through the Gaza border fence and launched an assault on soldiers. He said three of the militants returned to Gaza unharmed, but Islamic Jihad fighter Mohammed Jaabari, 19, was killed in the fight.
"Proper readiness by the forces of the Gaza division and the right actions in the field prevented an attack, apparently a kidnap," the army's southern region commander, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant said.
Abu Ahmed said the raiders meant to snatch a soldier but the attempt was foiled when Israeli helicopter gunships arrived on the scene.
"The aim of the operation was to withdraw with the soldier in captivity," he said, "But the participation of Israeli helicopters prevented that."
On June 25 last year Palestinian infiltrators killed two soldiers and snatched one in a cross-border near the Kerem Shalom frontier post, about 15 miles south of the site of Saturday's shootout. The abducted soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, is still missing.
A five-month truce between the Gaza militants and Israel collapsed in flames in May when a string of Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel triggered Israeli air strikes in response.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been scheduled to meet in the West Bank this week to discuss the latest round of violence, but the Palestinians called it off, accusing Israel of rejecting all their proposals in preparatory talks.
Israel will only talk to Abbas, shunning the Palestinian government headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, the Islamic group behind the deaths of scores of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks, which is pledged to Palestinian rule over all of historical Palestine, including present-day Israel.
Hamas has shrugged off international demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but a senior official Saturday took what appeared to be a softer line, saying only that Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Hamas was founded on a pledge to seek Israel's destruction, but some in the movement have moderated their stance as part of the coalition with the more pragmatic Fatah. The Hamas-Fatah government's platform calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
"Now there is one team, one program, one united government," Moussa Abu Marzouk, a deputy to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, said in an interview published Saturday in the Hamas-linked "Palestine." newspaper. "So there is a big chance to reach the goal we agreed upon at this stage, which is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem," he said.
Despite Abu Marzouk's message of Palestinian unity, there was a fresh outbreak Friday night of fighting between Hamas and Fatah loyalists, with at least one person wounded on each side in an exchange of fire in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, Palestinian security officials said.
A truce declared two weeks ago was meant to end vicious fighting between the sides in which more than 50 Palestinians have died since mid-May, but on Thursday the violence returned when a Fatah man was killed in a Rafah shootout.