Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, unveiled on Saturday what it said was video surveillance footage surrounding an Israeli special forces raid inside the Palestinian enclave two months ago that went awry. The Israeli undercover troops were exposed, and the ensuing firefight claimed the lives of an Israeli army officer and seven Palestinian terrorists, including a local commander from Hamas’s military wing.
The terror group also offered a $1 million reward for information that would lead to the identities of the special forces team.
The November 11 operation, details of which the Israeli military has kept largely under gag order, turned deadly when the undercover soldiers were spotted near Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The incident prompted Hamas to vow revenge and led to the deadliest escalation between the two sides since the 2014 war. The Israeli military censor again placed a gag order on some of the claims made by Hamas on Saturday.
On Saturday, Hamas — which is sworn to Israel’s destruction — said it completed a full investigation into the Israeli raid but released few new details. According to the terror organization, the Israeli special forces team prepared for the operation for at least 10 months and entered the Gaza Strip on several occasions in the lead up to it. It said the team, made up of 15 people, some of whom participated in the operation, possessed falsified documents and posed as employees of an aid agency.
Hamas alleged that the purpose of the operation was to plant devices, to enable Israel to spy on its communications, that had already been smuggled in through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Hamas claimed it was able to salvage valuable information from the equipment.
The video footage, aired on Hamas TV and by the Hamas-affiliated news agency Shehab, is made up of surveillance footage and animated reenactment of the operation. In a series of shots, two commercial vehicles Hamas says was used by the Israeli team can be seen driving around Khan Younis. The footage also allegedly shows two Israeli special forces, a man and a woman, in what appears to be a grocery store.
At a certain point, the vehicles arouse the suspicion of a Hamas commander and he begins to follow the vans, after which the teams are stopped and questioned.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Abu Obaida, the spokesperson of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said the group was offering a pardon to any possible “collaborators” who assisted the Israeli teams and would help in identifying them. He said Hamas would also offer $1 million for information about the Israeli special forces.
Hamas also released photos of the weapons and other equipment, including saws, allegedly seized from the Israeli teams.
The Israeli military is in the midst of an investigation into the incident.
In an interview with Hadashot TV aired Saturday night, outgoing IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said that over the course of the operation, in which Israeli forces were the first to open fire, “between 16 and 20 Hamas members were killed and another 40 to 60 were wounded.”
Eisenkot stopped short of calling the operation a success, but said the special forces “completed many operations in recent years that benefit Israel’s security.”
Speaking to Channel 10 Saturday, Eisenkot said “there were mistakes” in that operation as well as “heroic actions.”
In recent months, Hamas arrested dozens of Palestinians it suspected of aiding the Israeli forces. Earlier this month, the group said it apprehended “45 agents after the security incident east of Khan Younis last November and they are under investigation.”
Hamas previously published photos of eight people and two vehicles it said were linked to the Israeli operation, prompting the Israeli army censor to appeal to the public and media not to republish the images.
“Hamas is attempting to understand and analyze the incident that occurred in Gaza on November 11 and any information, even if it seems harmless by those who distribute it, can endanger lives and put state security at risk,” the army said at the time.
Hamas did not identify those in the pictures.
Following the operation, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired some 460 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, as well as an anti-tank missile that hit a bus Hamas says was being used by Israel’s army.
In all, some 27 Israelis were wounded, three of them severely.
A Palestinian laborer from the West Bank was killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit a building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Israel hit back with widespread airstrikes in the Gaza Strip that saw seven Palestinians killed in 24 hours.
A November 13 ceasefire brokered by Egypt ended the fighting that had raised fears of a fourth war between Israel and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza since 2008.
In December a Gaza military court sentenced six people, including a woman, to death for “collaborating” with Israel. But the interior ministry said they were not directly related to the November incursion.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 28 executions have been carried out in Gaza since Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave in 2007 from rival faction Fatah.
Hamas and its allies have fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade.
Israel says the measure is necessary to isolate Hamas and prevent weapons from reaching the terror group; critics say it amounts to collective punishment of the territory’s two million residents. An Islamist terror group, Hamas seeks to destroy Israel.