Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed back to Israel on Monday, hours after an Israeli army officer and seven Palestinians, including a local Hamas commander, were killed after an incursion by Israeli special forces into the Gaza Strip.
The Islamic militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, said Israeli undercover forces entered the territory in a civilian vehicle late Sunday and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen.
The clashes prompted Israeli airstrikes and a salvo of rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel. An Israeli lieutenant colonel and several Hamas fighters were among those killed.
The cross-border fighting came just days after Israel and Hamas reached indirect deals, backed by Qatar and Egypt, to allow cash and fuel into Gaza. It was not clear if the burst of violence would derail the arrangements which are aimed at preventing a further deterioration of conditions in Gaza, under blockade by Israel and Egypt since a 2007 Hamas takeover.
The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said that in Sunday’s incursion, Israeli undercover forces drove about 3 kilometers (2 miles) into southeastern Gaza and shot and killed Nour el-Deen Baraka, a mid-level commander in the town of Khan Younis. Qassam members discovered the car and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said.
The Israeli military said there had been an exchange of fire during an operation in Gaza, with troops withdrawing from the territory with the help of aircraft. It said that militants then launched 17 rockets from Gaza toward Israeli communities, where school and train service was cancelled in response, and that it had reinforced troops and its aerial defense system along the border following the flare-up.
The military provided few details about the reason for the raid. The Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said a “special force” carried out “a very meaningful operation to Israel’s security,” without elaborating.