Al Jazeera's David Chater in the Gaza Strip said that most of the police station was destroyed in the attack and many people were wounded by shrapnel from the blast.

"That was followed very quickly by, what we now know was naval gunships firing on a Palestinian naval post in Rafah ... and then there was another air strike on a police post in Rafah as well," he said.

Rocket attacks

An Israeli army spokesman said that the Khan Yunis attack targeted a Hamas military position "in response to the Qassam [rocket] launchings that hit Sderot this morning".

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Shortly after the strike, Hamas announced that its fighters had fired another four rockets at the city and Israeli military officials said two people were wounded.

The Israeli army confirmed the killings of two fighters in the raid near Rafah.

"The soldiers operating in that sector spotted two suspects and opened fire. They were hit," an Israeli army spokesman said.

Hospital sources named the two as Mahmud Abu Taher and Baker Abu Rajal.

High alert

Israel was on high alert after the attack in Dimona on Monday that killed one woman and wounded nearly a dozen others. It was the first suicide bombing in Israel in over a year.

Herbawi was identified as one
of the suicide bombers [AFP]
"We have mobilised thousands of police personnel and border guards, backed up by volunteers, to comb through densely-populated areas and carry out surveillance in sensitive areas, notably along the border with Egypt," Bertie Ohayon, a senior police officer, told public radio.

Hamas said that the two bombers came from the West Bank city of Hebron and identified them as Mohammed Herbawi and Shadi Zghayer.

One of the attackers was killed when his explosives belt detonated. The other was shot dead by police.

"I never expected Mohammed to carry out a martyrdom attack. He was quiet and normal. I was shocked when I saw his name," Um Samer, his mother, told the Reuters news agency.

The last time Hamas's armed wing claimed responsibility for suicide bombings inside Israel was in August 2004, when 16 people were killed and 100 wounded in explosions on two buses in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

On Monday, three Palestinian factions - the loosely Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades and the United Resistance Brigades - had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Hamas weapons

Meanwhile, Hamas leaders in Nablus called on their members to surrender their weapons to the rival Palestinian Authority and urged comrades in Gaza to give up control of the territory.

"Hamas in Nablus supports the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and its security services and thanks them for their efforts to re-establish law and order," Mussa Al-Kharraz, a local Hamas leader, said.

"We call on all members of the Islamist movement to give up their personal arms, those belonging to the movement, or those that they have bought because of the reigning security chaos."

But the Hamas leadership in Gaza rejected the idea that al-Kharraz's comments represented a split in the organisation, saying they had been "subjected to pressures in the prisons of the [Palestinian] Authority.

"This is not a split and these people do not represent the movement in this position. The [Hamas] movement does not abide by personal positions".