A Palestinian gunman who injured three Israeli soldiers in a firefight early Thursday before being killed was in Israeli territory for two hours after crossing over from the Gaza Strip, a senior commander in army’s Gaza Division said.
Briefing reporters, the officer said the assailant was spotted inside Gaza some 250 meters from the border fence and again, carrying a gun, as he crossed into Israel.
According to the officer, a platoon commander and his soldiers engaged the gunman after he crossed the border, before further forces arrived at the scene, but failed to hit him. The officer said the biggest concern during the ensuing firefight was friendly fire, due to the large number of Israeli troops present.
At one point during the gunbattle, a tank shelled an unmanned IDF post along the border that the attacker was believed to have hidden in, the officer said.
The officer stressed that the gunman was able to remain in Israeli territory for two hours before being killed to ensure there was no mistaken fire among the IDF troops.
The gunman was identified as Hani Abu Salah, a member of the military wing of Hamas whose brother was killed in a clash with the IDF last May.
Abu Salah was armed with a rifle and grenades and wearing a Hamas uniform, according to the IDF. However, an army spokesperson said, the military believes the attacker was acting alone and not on orders from Hamas.
The army said it also shelled a Hamas post in the area with tank fire during the incident.
The Israeli soldiers were taken to Soroka hospital in Beersheba with non-life-threatening injuries. One officer was receiving care for moderate injuries while two lightly wounded soldiers were released shortly after their arrival.
The flareup of violence broke several weeks of relative calm along the normally restive border.
The beginning of 2019 saw a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and airborne arson attacks, but the violence waned in recent weeks due to a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
On Wednesday, Israel wrapped up a four-day drill meant to prepare for the possibility of war with fighters based in the Palestinian enclave.
Wednesday also saw the first fire in two weeks sparked in Israel by an incendiary balloon launched from Gaza, according to authorities.