A senior Israeli officer, a Hamas commander and six other Palestinians died in a firefight in Gaza last night in the aftermath of a covert Israeli military operation.
The Israeli special forces operation came under fire after an unspecified malfunction exposed the soldiers as they were making their way back to Israel. The Israel Air Force (IAF) was required to provide covering fire for the Israeli troops and to facilitate their escape. An Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel was killed and another officer sustained moderate injuries.
According to Palestinian sources, seven Palestinians were killed, including Nur Barakeh, a local commander of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas said Israeli forces in a civilian vehicle infiltrated three kilometres into Gaza and fatally shot Barakah. Palestinian sources also claim that Israeli special forces were sent to kidnap the Hamas commander responsible for the tunnel network in eastern Khan Yunis.
Following the incident, Palestinians fired 17 missiles into southern Israel. There were no immediate reports of injury but damage was caused in one community in the Eshkol Regional Council. The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted three missiles.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said: “An IDF special force operated tonight in a very meaningful operation to Israel’s security. The force and IAF troops fought a brave battle calmly and heroically. I salute our troops. The IDF owes Lt. Col. M. more than we can say. I embrace his family and wish the injured officer a quick recovery.”
The Home Front Command has cancelled school today in the Israeli communities close to Gaza and a section of the railway between Ashkelon and Beer Sheva is closed. The stations of Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim are also closed as a precaution.
The incident prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a visit to Paris, where he was attending events to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. Before last night, violent incidents along the Gaza border had decreased after Israel facilitated the transfer of $15m of Qatari funds to Hamas.