Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 12:22 UK

Israel will 'respond' over raid

Hamas graffiti in the Gaza Strip, 9 April 2008
Israel says it will "settle the score" with Hamas

Israel has again held Hamas responsible for a raid by Palestinian militants on an Israeli fuel depot, and says it will respond at a time of its choosing.

Two Israeli civilians and at least seven Palestinians died in Wednesday's violence near a Gaza border crossing.

Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel would "settle the score" with Hamas, which it blames for the raid because it controls Gaza.

Several militant groups, including Islamic Jihad, say they were to blame.

Hamas has denied that its forces were involved in the attack.

Mr Vilnai told Israel's army radio that Hamas "bears sole responsibility for what happened in the Gaza Strip".

However, he played down suggestions that Israel might cut off fuel supplies to Gaza in retaliation.

"We cannot afford to provoke a humanitarian crisis," he said.

'Massive fire'

The attack began with an apparent attempt to seize Israeli soldiers.

The two Israelis killed were workers at the depot near the Nahal Oz crossing in northern Gaza.

Israeli officials say the militants targeted this point along the border because they wanted to disrupt fuel supplies into Gaza and thereby create a civilian crisis.

Militants speak to reporters in Gaza City after the border raid
This was a martyrdom-seeking operation aimed at kidnapping Zionist soldiers
Islamic Jihad spokesman

The raid, which happened just after a fuel delivery to Gaza, sparked a gun battle in which at least four militants were involved, the Israeli military says.

"There was a massive fire of mortar shells on the depot, and they got close to the fence with rifles and machine-guns," an Israeli witness said.

"They killed two of the depot workers - shot them dead."

Two militants were killed as they fled back into Gaza, the Israeli military said, while at least one other apparently escaped.

Later, Israeli aircraft hit a vehicle in Gaza City which the military said had been carrying Islamic Jihad militants involved in the attack. Palestinian civilians were reported to be among the casualties.

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad, identified as Abu-Mujahid, said the attack had been aimed at breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory last June.

"This was a martyrdom-seeking [suicide] operation aimed at kidnapping Zionist soldiers," he said.

Israel frequently mounts raids into Gaza to try to stop militants from firing rockets its territory.

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