Two Palestinians, said to be members of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, were killed early on Friday morning during an armed clash with an Israeli army force in northern Gaza.

In a statement faxed to the press, the aL-Qassam brigades, announced that Mohammad Nasser aL-Kafarana and Mohammad Awad aL-Kafarna, were killed today when an Israeli army force exchanged gun fire with a group of fighters on the Gaza-Israel border in Beit Hanoun.

Israeli army attacks have escalated over the past 24 hours, claiming the lives of 11 people, including a four-member family, and other resistance fighters in different parts of the coastal territory. Such military escalation on the ground is consistent with repeated warnings by the Israeli army that it will be widely invading the Gaza Strip.

Since June 2007, Israel has been imposing a crippling closure on the Gaza Strip, following the Hamas takeover of the region amidst a power struggle with the rival Fatah party of Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Three months later, Israel declared Gaza a 'hostile entity' and began a series of 'punitive measures' on Gaza's 1.4 million-strong population, such as largely cutting off fuel supplies and further tightening the siege.

Israel claims that its actions have been aimed at preventing homemade shell fire from being launched from the Gaza Strip onto nearby Israeli towns, a pretext rebuffed by human rights groups worldwide as ' a collective punishment policy'.

Many commentators believe that Israel's actions on the ground would hamper Abbas-led peace talks which are underway with Israel. The Islamist Hamas in Gaza has shunned such talks until Israel lifts the Gaza siege, removes West Bank roadblocks and freezes construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian lands.