The Islamic Jihad group, which has carried out the last seven attacks on Israeli targets, named the dead fighters as Mahmud Salah Ayad, 25, and Fares Sofian Abu Gharaba, 24, and confirmed they were trying to carry out an attack.

The Israeli military said the two men were part of a three-man commando, of whom the third escaped, and added that a 30kg bomb had been recovered from the scene.

Medics at the Deir al-Balah hospital in the central Gaza Strip confirmed they had received the bodies of the two slain fighters.

Their deaths brought to 4985 the number of people killed since the eruption of the intifada in September 2000, four-fifths of them Palestinians, according to an AFP count.