Hamas: Israeli special forces posed as medical workers to get into Gaza for raid

Terror group tells UK’s Independent daily that IDF soldiers used fake IDs to enter Strip in November, were caught because of their accents

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car said to be destroyed following an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car said to be destroyed following an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Hamas officials have told a British news outlet that Israeli special forces troops posed as medical workers for a non-governmental organization during a raid inside the Gaza Strip last month that went awry.

On the night of November 11, the Israeli unit was exposed inside the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis following a search at a Hamas checkpoint, resulting in a firefight in which an Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed, along with seven Palestinian gunmen.

After the special forces operation and subsequent gun battle, Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group launched the largest-ever bombardment against Israel from the Gaza Strip, lobbing some 500 rockets and mortar shells mostly at Israeli communities surrounding the coastal enclave — pushing Israel and terror groups to the brink of war.

Most details of the operation remain under a strict gag order by the military censor, and all articles about it must be approved, including this one.

According to a report Monday in the Independent newspaper, the Israeli troops used “detailed but fake” identity cards with the names and personal information of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

“Those who the Israelis were posing as were detained but they had no idea their names had been used,” Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, told the British paper from Gaza City. The Palestinians whose names were found to have been unwittingly used were later released, he said.

According to the Hamas officials, the Israeli troops posed as medical workers, ferrying patients around the area.

“[The Israeli unit] were posing as NGO workers, there were women in the car as well. They used this to justify why they were stealing into Gaza and had a story prepared should they be questioned,” one official said.

Palestinian officials have claimed the Israeli troops were installing surveillance equipment in the Gaza Strip in order to listen in on Hamas’s internal communications.

The Independent acknowledged that it was unable to corroborate much of the information provided by the Hamas officials about the Israeli raid. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed that special forces soldiers conducted an operation on the night in question but would not provide any details besides that it was of great importance to national security.

During the raid on the night of November 11, the troops were stopped at a Hamas checkpoint and questioned. During their interrogation, the Hamas gunmen noticed that the alleged Israeli soldiers’ accents did not match the addresses listed on their ID cards.

“They told the fighters at the checkpoint that they were delivering patients back from clinics to their homes and had a wheelchair in the back of the van. They presented their ID cards but the [fighters] manning the checkpoint were suspicious as their accents and voices did not match the areas where they said they were from,” a Hamas official said.

According to the Palestinian officials, when a more senior Hamas commander decided to bring in the suspects for additional questioning, the Israeli special forces soldiers opened fire, killing the senior commander, Nour Barakeh, and his deputy.

During the firefight and dash to the border, the Israeli lieutenant colonel — who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name, “Mem” — was killed and another officer was wounded. Five other Palestinian gunmen were also killed.

A Hamas official said the Gaza-ruling group had significantly tightened security throughout the Strip — a development confirmed by journalists and NGO workers in the coastal enclave.

“We are concerned that we want foreigners to keep coming in. They are helping with the humanitarian situation. We are dedicated to facilitating people coming in and out of Gaza. Any tightened security measures – which are applied to everyone – will be temporary,” said the official, speaking to the British newspaper on condition of anonymity.

The massive flareup that followed last month’s raid ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that remains in effect some three weeks later.

Members of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said the groups are prepared to go to war with Israel again, but will for now maintain the calm.

“If the Israelis launch a new attack, the Palestinian [fighters] are ready to deal with this attack,” Walid al-Qottati, a member of Islamic Jihad’s political wing, told The Independent.

“We are not lowering our guard yet,” a Hamas official agreed. “We do think the Israelis might do a sudden strike but for the moment, for now, at least things are moving [in] the right direction.”

Since the raid, Hamas officials have released details about the operation to the public, apparently in an attempt to fish for additional information about the nature of the Israeli operation and potentially in order to embarrass the IDF.

Last month, Hamas published the photographs of eight suspected Israeli special forces soldiers, calling on members of the public to contact its military wing if they had any information about them and their activities.

Blurred version, approved by military censor, of photographs published by the Hamas terror group on November 22, 2018, purporting to show Israeli soldiers who took part in a Gaza raid earlier in the month.

Though freely available on the internet, the photographs could not be published by Israeli media by order of the military censor.

In a highly irregular public statement, the censor also called on Israelis not to share any information they have about the raid, even if they think it benign.

The IDF has launched two investigations into the raid.

According to the army, one investigation will be conducted within Military Intelligence. The findings will be presented to Military Intelligence head Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

The military said an initial probe was expected to be completed within the coming weeks.

In addition, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon — the former head of IDF Operations — was charged with a wider investigation into how the army conducts such raids.

Alon was instructed to lead a team to “examine and study the challenges and [make] recommendations at the level of the General Staff, of multiple army branches and of the inter-organizational cooperation between different special forces,” the army said.

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