The Hamas terror group blamed Israel on Thursday for an explosion that killed three fishermen off the coast of Gaza earlier this week, leading several armed factions in Gaza to vow revenge.
Israel has denied any involvement in the incident.
Hamas Interior Ministry spokesperson Iyad al-Bozm said that the three fishermen were killed by an explosion caused by a toppled Israeli drone that had been caught in their net.
“The three fishermen from the Al-Lahham family were killed due to the detonation of an explosive device installed on a quadcopter belonging to the Israeli occupation, which got stuck in their nets and exploded while they were extracting it,” al-Bozm said.
Although al-Bozm ruled out a direct Israeli strike on the ship, he said that Hamas “holds the Israeli occupation fully responsible.”
The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Hamas’s new claims, though after the incident took place it denied involvement, saying there had been “no Israeli fire” toward Gaza and “This is an internal Gaza incident.”
The explosion occurred close to the coast of Khan Younis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday. The three deceased fishermen, Yahya Mustafa al-Laham, Hamdi al-Laham and Zakaria al-Laham, were two brothers and their cousin, Gaza fishermen’s union head Nizar Ayyash told local media.
“They were the martyrs of their daily bread,” the al-Laham family said in a statement on their official Facebook page on Sunday. The three had died, the family said, after “a local mortar struck their boat.”
According to the Hamas Interior Ministry, the drone alleged to have exploded on Sunday had been there since February 22 during a clash between a Hamas naval unit and the Israeli military.
Observers had suspected that a mortar or rocket launched by Hamas had unintentionally struck the fishermen’s boat, killing them instantly. Hamas regularly fires experimental rockets toward the sea, both to test their military capacities and as a show of force.
Witnesses also testified to local human rights groups that mortars had been fired immediately prior to the explosion, but Hamas dismissed the possibility that a shell had struck the fishermen’s boat.
“After inspecting the experimental missile launch platform, the coordinates of its fall, reviewing camera footage from resistance observation points, and confirming the exact timing of the launch, it became clear that the explosion site was completely outside the range of the missile firing zone,” al-Bozm said.
Israel limits the permitted fishing zone off the Gaza Strip as part of a blockade on the Hamas-controlled enclave, which it says is aimed at preventing arms from reaching Palestinian terror groups.
The Gaza fishing zone extends approximately 17 miles off the coast of the enclave. Hamas rockets have been seen to reach as far as Tel Aviv, which lies about 40 miles north of the Gaza Strip.
Islamic Jihad vowed revenge against Israel following Thursday’s announcement by Hamas, saying that Israel bore responsibility for the fishermen’s deaths.
“The occupation is behind this hideous crime and has committed this odiousness. A response will surely arrive from the Palestinian resistance,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement.
Sunday’s incident was not the first time that technical errors with weaponry were said to harm or even kill civilians living in the Gaza Strip. In the past, blasts have sometimes been caused by accidents as operatives of terrorist organizations in the territory built bombs or otherwise handled explosives.
Last month, a blast ripped through a building in northern Gaza, injuring at least 36 civilians. The Israeli military charged that Palestinian terror groups had stored weapons inside civilian homes. Hamas promised to investigate the incident, but no conclusion has yet been reached.