Bethlehem - Israeli helicopter gunships killed four members of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Bethlehem on Tuesday, a day after a Palestinian suicide bombing in Israel.

An Israeli military source said those killed belonged to a Hamas cell that was planning a terror attack during the closing ceremony of the Maccabiah Games - the Jewish Olympics - next week.

The Israeli army said one of the dead, identified as Omar Saada, 45, led Hamas's military wing in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank.

"We are talking about a clear preventive operation," the military source said about the helicopter strike in the Palestinian-ruled town.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a senior aide to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said the missile attack was state-sponsored terrorism that harmed Palestinian efforts to restore calm.

The aerial assault coincided with a security alert across Israel after Monday's suicide bombing in which the bomber and two soldiers were killed outside a train station.

Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, a Hamas official, said the four activists had gathered in a building in Bethlehem to await the arrival of a Palestinian who was due to be released from an Israeli jail when the helicopter gunships struck with missiles.

Palestinian security sources identified the three other Hamas men killed in the attack as Eshak Saada, 51, Taha al-Arouj, 37, and Mohammed Saada, 29. - Reuters