Amid ongoing hostilities between Hamas and Israel, operatives from the terror group fired an anti-tank missile at an Israel Defense Forces bus north of the Gaza Strip Thursday morning, moments after it had been filled with troops.
The bus, which was parked outside the Zikim army base on the Gaza border south of Ashkelon, took a direct hit, with the missile smashing through its bulletproof protection and destroying its rear section.
Some 10 soldiers from the Paratrooper’s Brigade had been aboard the bus just minutes before the attack, having returned from an operative mission in the area. They were dropped off inside the base before the bus exited its front gate and stopped just outside.
The IDF confirmed the attack, saying the bus was empty when it was hit. A soldier standing nearby was lightly injured by shrapnel and taken to nearby Barzilai Medical Center for treatment, the hospital said.
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Meir Vaknin, the driver of the bus, was in the driver’s seat when the missile struck, but came out unscathed.
“It was another trip for me, I dropped the soldiers off at the base and waited to take another batch of soldiers out of there. Then, suddenly, there was no siren, and I was struck,” Vaknin told Channel 12 news.
“The soldiers rushed to my seat because they thought I was injured, but everything was fine. I got out of it on my own. Everything was fine,” he said.
Hamas released footage of the attack, filmed from multiple angles, in which the bus can be seen clearly from across the border.
Hamas releases a video of its ATGM attack toward an empty IDF bus on the Gaza border this morning. pic.twitter.com/YhHYetfqzJ
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In response to the attack, the IDF carried out a strike on a car in the northern Gaza Strip, saying its passengers were armed members of Hamas’s anti-tank missile unit.
Two people were killed in the strike, according to Palestinian media reports.
The army also said it destroyed the Hamas launchpad in Beit Lahiya where the anti-tank missile was fired from.
It was the second anti-tank guided missile attack directed at IDF soldiers on the border in this campaign. In the first such strike last Tuesday, IDF soldier Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib was killed when a missile struck his jeep and two other servicemen were injured, one seriously and one moderately.
The latest attack came as a lull of several hours was broken Thursday morning with multiple waves of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border.
Over the next few hours, more waves of mortar fire targeted additional communities around the Strip and rockets were fired toward the city of Ashkelon, one of the hardest hit areas in Israel in the current round of fighting, as well as at Beersheba.
No injuries were reported from the projectiles, but at least three people were lightly injured while running to bomb shelters, medics said.
Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have launched nearly 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.
Israel, in response, launched an extensive bombing campaign in the Strip. The humanitarian crisis has deepened in the impoverished Strip, with the UN saying 72,000 Palestinians have been displaced.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured over the past ten days.
On Wednesday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry updated the death toll in the Strip to 227, including more than 64 minors. It was not immediately clear if the ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.
According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.