A new statement on Thursday said that while Israeli troops were pursuing "a group of armed gunmen" who were believed to be planning an attack in the Gaza Strip, they had fired on a car in which they thought the men were fleeing the area.

While the army admitted that three occupants of the car who were killed were in fact unarmed, it said two of them were members of the Islamic Jihad resistance movement.

The army spokesman said that the area where the car was travelling was the scene of several recent attacks on Israeli targets by Palestinian fighters.

The latest deaths raised to 3624 the number of people killed since the September 2000 outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada, including 2704 Palestinians and 854 Israelis, according to a count by news agency AFP.

Incursion

Elsewhere, Israeli occupation forces backed by more than 20 heavy vehicles and Apache helicopters raided the city of Jenin and its refugee camp on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses told Aljazeera armed Palestinians exchanged fire with Israeli special units, which entered the camp from the Jabiriyat area.