Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Israel through a tunnel early today, attacking a military post and killing two Israelis before soldiers shot dead three gunmen, the army, militants and witnesses said.
The strike in Kerem Shalom, the first of its kind since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last August, came days after Israel warned that militants were planning an attack on the area, an alert that caused the Gaza-Egypt border to be shut down for several days last week.
The small Popular Resistance Committees admitted the attack, saying militants from the ruling Hamas group and from a previously unknown group, the Islam Army, participated in the attack.
At least five other Israelis were wounded in the attack, including three from a bomb detonated shortly after the initial strike, the army said.
Hours later, Israeli ground troops entered the Gaza Strip to search the tunnel area.
The latest round of violence comes at a time of heightened tensions, with Israel furious over continuous Palestinian rocket attacks at Israeli towns, and the Palestinians enraged by retaliatory Israeli air strikes that have killed 13 civilians in recent weeks. A separate explosion at a Gaza beach that killed eight other civilians has further intensified frictions, with Palestinians blaming Israeli artillery for the blast, and Israel denying it fired at the area at the time.
“Our fighters infiltrated the Israeli army military location near so-called Kerem Shalom,” said Abu Mujahid, a PRC spokesman. “They succeeded in blowing up several Israeli vehicles and clashed with Israeli soldiers. The battle is still going on. The number of fighters is bigger than ever. We have some martyrs who fell during the battle.”
He said full details of the operation would be released at a news conference later in the day.
Abu Mujahid refused to confirm the report, but said: “It was a very complicated and well-studied operation. The details are going to shock the Zionists. There are many surprises that are going to beannounced about the planning and the process and the battle itself.”
The operation, he said, was meant to avenge the death of the group’s leader, Jamal Abu Samhadana, in an Israeli airstrike earlier this month. Abu Samhadana was killed shortly after accepting a senior security position in the Hamas-led government.
Palestinian militants have often attacked the main crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip, leading them to be shut down and causing economic hardship in the already poverty-stricken coastal area. The crossings were closed again Sunday shortly after the attack.
The Israeli army had issued warnings over several days last week that militants were plotting an attack near the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings. The warning prompted EU monitors to close the nearby Rafah crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world.