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After patrol hit, Israeli army kills 4 in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian militants fired an antitank missile at an Israeli jeep patrolling the border with Gaza and the Israelis fired back into the Palestinian territory, killing four civilians, officials and witnesses said.

Israel’s military said four of its soldiers were wounded in the missile attack, including one seriously. Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry spokesman, said all four Palestinians killed were civilians between the ages of 16 and 18 and that among the 25 wounded were children.

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The military wing of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility but it still remains unclear who was behind the attack. The PFLP often takes credit for attacks that later turn out to be the work of Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants.

Gaza militants often fire rockets from the Israel-Gaza border area toward nearby Israeli communities and low-level clashes with the Israeli military are common. But when casualties are involved, par- ticularly civilians, the potential for escalation grows significantly.

Both sides threatened retaliation, and previous such incidents have unfolded into days of Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli strikes.

Later Saturday, a pair of Palestinian rockets landed in an open field in southern Israel. The Israeli military informed residents to stay close to home in case of further rocket attacks.

Witnesses said that after the large explosion that started the incident, Israel retaliated with tank and machine gun fire toward residential areas at the al-Muntar hill in the central part of the territory, hitting people who were returning from a funeral east of Gaza City.

Rami Harra said his 17-year-old brother Muhammad Harra was killed in the strike. ‘‘Why did they kill him?” he said. “I can’t believe my eyes that I am seeing his dead body.’’

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