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Israel kills 4 Palestinians in Gaza operation

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  • NEW: Olmert defends blockade, vows not to "slacken" against rocket attacks
  • Israel launches two attacks after armed men approach forces, Israeli source says
  • At least three of the four Palestinians killed were militants, sources say
  • Israel shut down borders, cut off supplies to Hamas-controlled Gaza last month
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike killed at least three Palestinians and wounded 16 others Sunday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Palestinian and Israeli sources said.

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Palestinians carry a wounded man into a hospital Sunday after an Israeli military operation in Rafah.

Another Palestinian was killed and 10 others wounded in an earlier incident in which an Israel Defense Forces unit opened fire on "armed men approaching the forces" in eastern Rafah, the sources said.

According to an IDF statement, there was a similar impetus for the airstrike, as "forces carried out an aerial attack against a group of Palestinian gunmen after they approached the forces."

The Ramattan News Agency, a Palestinian media outlet, quoted Palestinian security sources who said Israeli drones fired two rockets near the Rafah border crossing that connects Gaza and Egypt.

Three Palestinian militants were killed in the airstrike, said an Israeli military spokeswoman. Palestinian security sources said 16 people were wounded. Video Watch Palestinians after a separate airstrike Saturday in central Gaza »

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that IDF troops backed by tanks and air support clashed with militants. Palestinian Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain told Haaretz that three gunmen were killed in clashes as well as a 45-year-old civilian who was shot in the head.

The three gunmen were from Hamas and another militant faction, the Popular Resistance Committees, Hassanain told the newspaper.

Palestinian sources told CNN the person killed by Israeli gunfire was a "Palestinian activist."

An Israeli soldier belonging to an "elite" unit was seriously wounded during a gunfight with militants, the IDF said.

IDF told Haaretz that the operation was aimed at militants firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Residents and Hamas officials told the paper that Israeli forces took over several homes near the airport in southern Gaza, and bulldozers began clearing farmland so militants would have no cover from which to launch rockets.

Five Qassam rockets were fired Sunday into Sderot, just miles from the northeast border of Gaza, Israeli ambulance services told CNN. Five people were treated for shock, but no serious injuries were reported.

Militants have lobbed thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel since Israel withdrew its troops and settlements from the region in 2005, according to the Israeli military.

Israel has initiated a major military operation in Gaza to stop the rocket attacks.

Earlier this month, Sderot residents demanding military action began protesting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv after doctors had to amputate the leg of 8-year-old Osher Tuito following injuries the boy sustained in a rocket attack. More protests were widely reported outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office Sunday.

At a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Olmert said the rocket attacks constitute an "almost daily war."

He vowed not to "slacken" in his resolve to combat the attacks. On the defensive side, he announced that Israel is spending $14 million to build 13 schools, reinforced to withstand rocket attacks, in and around Sderot. The Knesset approved the construction in January.

"We will continue to struggle in order to reduce to nil the threat that is upsetting the quality of life of residents of the south," Olmert said, according to excerpts released by his office.

In June, Hamas seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party, forcing Fatah to consolidate its leadership in the West Bank. Hamas is considered a terror organization by the United States; Abbas is considered an ally.

Gaza, which is home to 1.4 million Palestinians, has been subject to economic sanctions since Hamas took control. Israel closed all border crossings January 17 and has intermittently reduced or cut off fuel, food and medical supplies to the region.

Olmert said Sunday that Israel will continue its military operations and its blockade of "materials that could serve the terrorist organizations, including energy."

He also responded to human rights groups who claim the blockade unfairly punishes Palestinian civilians, rather than the Hamas leadership.

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"This may not always be loved but it is an important part of counter-terrorist activity," Olmert said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians stormed the border last month, streaming into Egypt to obtain supplies and medical attention that have not been available since Israel clamped down on the border. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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