Hamas militants die in missile strike

Witnesses say the car was targeted with two rockets close to the Jewish settlement of Netzarim just south of Gaza City. At least two bystanders were also injured in the missile strike.

The Israeli Government says the three militants were preparing for an imminent attack against Israelis, but gave no further details of the target.

The Israeli military’s chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, announced on Tuesday that the army would intensify its operations against militant groups in the Palestinian territories.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has accused Israel of escalating the Middle East conflict, saying the latest attack is proof of Israel’s aggressive intent despite talk of withdrawing troops from Gaza.

The Jewish settlement of Netzarim, whose 65 families are guarded by an entire army battalion, is set to be dismantled as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial plan to disengage from the Palestinians.

However the plan has suffered another blow after senior aides to Mr Sharon returned from Washington after failing to secure US backing for the disengagement plan.

But diplomatic sources say they have so far failed to convince Washington to back the “disengagement plan” which would see Israel strengthen control over West Bank settlements as well as pull out from Gaza.

White House officials are expected to travel to Israel for a further round of talks next week, with Washington seeking more details before deciding whether to give the plan its approval.

Mr Sharon has said that he intends to embark on his own unilateral measures within a few months if the deadlock in the bilateral peace process with the Palestinians is not broken, but says US backing for such a project is vital.

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