An Israeli raid in the Gaza Strip Sunday killed a Hamas commander and sparked fresh exchanges of cross-border fire, despite recent talk of a ceasefire agreement.
At least six other Palestinians were killed during the raid along with one Israeli officer, Reuters reported. Another Israeli agent was wounded.
Hamas said the incident began when Israeli agents opened fire on a group of Hamas militants from a passing unmarked car east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, killing commander Nour Baraka. The group said its fighters gave chase as the Israelis sped back towards the border.
The Israelis called in airstrikes to cover their retreat, Reuters explained, with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) aircraft firing more than 40 missiles at a host of targets in the surrounding area.
Officials in Gaza said four of the seven killed were Hamas militants. The identities of the three other casualties were not immediately made clear. Another seven Palestinians were wounded, health officials and Hamas said.
The IDF released a statement explaining that “an exchange of fire” evolved during a special forces mission inside the Gaza Strip. It identified the dead soldier only as Lieutenant Colonel M.
According to The Times of Israel, IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis described the incident as an intelligence operation that went awry. He stressed that the operatives were not intending to kidnap or assassinate any Hamas targets.
Most details of the raid are being kept secret by the IDF. Manelis said the special forces troops were trapped in a “highly complex situation,” but that they responded “heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory.”
The incursion sparked rocket fire towards Israeli border communities from the coastal enclave. Warning sirens sounded throughout the region but there were no immediate reports of injuries, deaths or serious damage on the Israeli side of the border. At least 17 projectiles were fired, three of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.
The flare-up caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Paris, where he was joining dozens of world leaders to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War One.
In a Twitter post, Netanyahu praised M as “a glorious fighter who fell during an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip.” He added: “The day will come when we can tell of all his valor. The citizens of Israel owe him an enormous debt.”
The violence threatens to derail the Egypt- and Qatar-backed ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which could end months of tensions and occasional bouts of violence along the border fence.