"Two Hamas operatives were killed in Hebron and a third one was wounded. He was taken away by security forces for interrogation," an army spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday. 

A Hamas statement named the dead fighters as Murad Qawasma 28, and Umar Himuni, 26, saying they were members of its military wing: the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. 

"Our two fighters met martyrdom after being hunted down and surrounded by the Zionist enemy. They also clashed at length with brutal soldiers. A third fighter was wounded during the clashes," it said. 

Witnesses said the two were killed in exchanges of fire with soldiers in the southern West Bank town and that a third was seriously wounded. Israeli army radio gave a similar account. 

The wounded man was named as Iyad Abu Shkaidim. 

House dynamited

Witnesses said the shoot-out occurred shortly after troops dynamited a house where the three had been hiding. The two-storey house belonged to Nizar Shihada, who heads a local charity with links to Hamas and who was jailed by Israel six months ago. 

Earlier on Thursday, soldiers killed another Hamas fighter in southern Gaza Strip during an incursion by a column of tanks into the sector, Palestinian medics and Hamas said. 

The Israeli army razed a number
of houses in Rafah on Thursday

Musa al-Ghriz, 30, described by Hamas as a local commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was killed by a tank shell in Rafah, they said. 

The army could not immediately confirm the information but said armed clashes pitted Hamas fighters against soldiers early on Thursday. 

A spokeswoman said the incident had occurred when troops uncovered a tunnel used by fighters to smuggle weapons across the border from Egypt. 

Seven Palestinians were also arrested and several houses razed by the army in Rafah, Palestinian security sources said.