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Israeli air strike kills two Palestinians in Gaza

Israeli police arrest 10 Hamas members in West Bank

An Israeli air strike killed two Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, a militant group said, as Israeli police arrested 10 Hamas leaders in in a predawn West Bank sweep.

The two gunmen were from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was checking the report although she was not aware of any military activity in the area of the central Gaza Strip, close to the border fence with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli security forces arrested 10 senior leaders of the Islamist Hamas organization in the West Bank, a military spokeswoman said.

"Ten senior Hamas terror operatives that constitute the leading members of the terror organization in Judea and Samaria, (West Bank) were arrested ... last night" she said. "Among the wanted men were four Hamas legislative council members."

The Islamists were arrested in a joint military and internal security operation, the spokeswoman said.

"These men have been the leaders of the ongoing effort to restore the administrative branch of the Hamas terror organization in the region, while attempting to strengthen the power and influence of Hamas," she added.

More than 40 Hamas members from the West Bank are already in Israeli jails.

Hamas, which has been ruling the Gaza Strip since June 2007, is listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

The arrests follow the failure of Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Hamas and Israel for a prisoner swap that would entail the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israel.

Shalit was seized by Palestinian militants in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.

These men have been the leaders of the ongoing effort to restore the administrative branch of the Hamas terror organization in the region

Israeli military spokeswoman

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had hoped to secure the release of Shalit before leaving office.

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to partner with hawkish parties in Israel's new government, has not commented on the failed release efforts or how he plans to deal with Shalit's case.

The failure of the prisoner swap talks threatens to set off a long chain reaction of setbacks. Israel has vowed not to lift its crushing blockade of impoverished Gaza until Schalit is returned home.That could seriously impede reconstruction there after Israel's recent military offensive because building materials and equipment won't be able to enter the territory, home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

The Israeli offensive left more than 1,330 Palestinians dead and 5,000 wounded. Thirteen Israelis were killed as well during the war.

The continued crippling blockade could also hamper efforts to cement a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, which in turn would carry the threat of a sudden escalation in the low-level violence that has continued since the war ended on Jan. 18.