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Four Palestinians killed, two Israeli soldiers injured in Gaza clashes

Gaza City — Four Palestinians, including two Hamas militants, were killed in an Israeli airstrike Friday during protests. Gunshots from the Gaza Strip wounded two Israeli soldiers, officials said.

The Israeli army said the soldiers who were shot were moderately and lightly wounded, respectively. Israeli aircraft hit a Hamas militant site in response, killing two Hamas gunmen and wounding three others, Gaza's health ministry and Hamas' armed wing said.

The escalation in violence came as thousands of Palestinians demonstrated along Gaza's perimeter fence with Israel Friday.

The health ministry said a 19-year-old Palestinian protester died shortly after he was injured in southern Gaza Strip. Early Saturday, the ministry added that a second demonstrator aged 31 had died. More than 50 Palestinians suffered various injuries during protests at several sections of the frontier.

The violence shatters a monthlong easing of hostilities that was mediated by Egypt. The calm along the Gaza-Israel frontier was in exchange for Israel's scaling back restrictions on the territory. However, Gaza's Hamas rulers accused Israel of not honoring the deal.

Hamas leaders were in Egypt on Friday for further talks, and hoped that Egyptian mediators could alleviate the blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed after it violently seized full control of Gaza in 2007 from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. Cairo has hoped negotiations could lead to a long-term cease-fire.

More than 200 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed in the border protests that Hamas has led since March of last year.

Last month, Israel allowed Gaza fishermen to sail up to 15 nautical miles off the enclave's coast, but retracted the decision this week, scaling it down to the longtime previous limit of nine miles after rockets were fired from Gaza.

Hamas also says Israel delayed the transfer of Qatari money for cash-strapped public institutions in the territory of 2 million people and did not take more measures to ease the grinding power shortage in Gaza.

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