JERUSALEM - Israeli forces killed three Palestinians near the Gaza Strip's northern border with Israel on Thursday. Palestinians said they were fishermen, but the Israeli army said they were militants.

An army statement said several militants were identified approaching the border fence in an attempt to plant explosives against Israeli troops. Israeli forces opened fire, killing three of the men, the statement said.

But relatives of the dead said that they were unarmed fishermen, and a spokesman for Gaza's emergency services said that their bodies were found in a beach area about a mile from the border.

None of Gaza's armed groups immediately claimed that any of their members had been killed.

The Israeli army maintains a no-entry zone on the Gaza side of the border fence, where militants have planted explosive charges targeting Israeli soldiers. The army said that because militants have used the presence of civilians in the border area as a cover for their activities, Israeli forces "will not allow anyone to be present in this area."