An Israeli special forces officer was killed and another was wounded on Sunday night during a clash with Hamas operatives in the southern Gaza Strip, the military said. Seven Hamas operatives were killed in the incident.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Paris for a summit of world leaders, cut his visit short and flew back to Israel. He was expected to convene a security assessment meeting in Jerusalem at noon, Monday.
Many of the details were not approved for publication due to the sensitive nature of the military action Sunday, but according to available details, IDF special forces operating in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis were discovered by Hamas operatives. A fierce gunfight erupted, and the Israeli troops, who eventually found themselves trapped, radioed for aerial assistance, which arrived within minutes, allowing for their extraction.
The IDF said it could not release details on the casualties’ identity, naming the slain officer only as Lt. Col. M.
The second officer sustained moderate wounds and was admitted to the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba in stable condition, the military said.
Sunday’s clash sparked a flare-up on the border as Palestinian terrorists fired 17 projectiles at southern Israel.
The Color Red early warning rocket alert system repeatedly blared across the Gaza-vicinity communities, sending residents scrambling for shelter over a dozen times between 10:45 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.
The military said the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted three rockets, with the others landing in open areas.
Following the night’s events, the military reinforced its deployment in the Gaza sector.
Tensions in the area have prompted the Homefront Command to cancel the school day in a number of Israeli border-adjacent communities and close several major roads in the area. Train traffic was also suspended south of Beersheba.
Sunday’s development shattered what appeared to be a turning point after months of Palestinian border riots and arson terrorism. Prior to the flare-up, an Egyptian-brokered lull appeared to be holding.
The clashes sparked a wave of online rumors about the nature of the operation in Gaza, with some saying an Israeli soldier had been abducted.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit eventually issued an unusual statement, clarifying that the operation in Khan Younis was not an assassination raid, but rather an intelligence-gathering mission that went awry, and asking the public “to refrain from spreading unsubstantiated rumors.”
The statement said that while the troops sustained a loss, they were all extracted from the area safely.
In a press briefing, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said, “IDF troops operating in Gaza with the aim of maintaining Israel’s advantage over its enemies became trapped in a highly complex situation.”
”The soldiers acted heroically to neutralize the threat and facilitated their extraction back to Israel. Unfortunately, they sustained casualties – Lt. Col. M., whose acts of heroism cannot be made public. Another officer was moderately wounded as well,” the statement said.
Manelis stressed that the aim of the Israeli operation was not the assassination of a Hamas official or the abduction of an enemy agent.
“Those kinds of missions are taken extremely seriously and usually stay under the radar.”
He noted that “IDF forces in the area have been reinforced and remain ready for any scenario.”
Gaza’s Health Ministry confirmed that seven people were killed in Sunday’s clash, saying several others were wounded.
Palestinian media shared photos of the vehicle allegedly used by the Israeli forces inside Gaza, saying the car was bombed from the air by Israeli aircraft after the extraction in order to demolish any trace of classified information or equipment.
The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said that ”a special force of the Zionist enemy infiltrated 3 kilometers [2 miles] into Khan Younis and assassinated a commander of our forces. The withdrawal of the enemy led to the martyrdom of a number of people.”
Hamas later named the operative killed in the clash as Nour el-Deen Baraka, the local military commander, who was reportedly heavily involved in the terrorist group’s tunnel enterprise.
Hamas further accused Israel of sabotaging the emerging cease-fire agreement brokered by Egypt and supported by Qatar, and warned that “Israel will be made to pay for its actions.”
Islamic Jihad warned Monday that the IDF will “pay a heavy price” if it continues to enter the Gaza Strip.
“We are prepared to counter any act of aggression,” the terrorist group said.
The al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, has placed all of its operatives in Gaza on alert, the group said.
Originally posted at Israel Hayom.