Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, announced Thursday morning that its forces were going on high alert, deploying at the highest readiness level in expectation of a possible full-blown war with Israel.
The announcement followed Wednesday night’s sniper fire from Gaza that moderately wounded an IDF officer near Kissufim, which was followed by retaliatory strikes by IDF tanks and planes that targeted multiple Hamas installations and left three members of the terror group dead.
The soldier injured by sniper fire from southern Gaza on Wednesday was rushed to Soroka hospital in Beersheba, where he underwent surgery for gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, according to a hospital spokesperson. His condition was initially described as serious, but improved after the surgery. He is currently said to be in moderate condition.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes. It named them as 28-year-old Ahmad al-Basous, 29-year-old Abada Farawna and 27-year-old Muhammed al-Ara’er.
Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, later said the three were its members.
“Israel will pay in blood for its latest crimes,” the group said in a Thursday morning statement.
Following the exchange of fire, nine rockets were launched early Thursday from Gaza toward Israeli towns, eight landing in uninhabited areas and one shot down by the Iron Dome system. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Rocket sirens rang out in the Eshkol region just after 5:30 a.m., sending residents of three communities in the area scrambling into bomb shelters.
Earlier, sirens had sounded in the Hof Ashkelon, Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev areas at about 11:30 p.m. and just after midnight.
The IDF responded to the rocket fire, firing tank shells at seven Hamas posts along the border.
Late Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman convened a meeting at army headquarters in Tel Aviv with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss the rising tensions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was updated by the group by telephone, according to Army Radio.
The outburst of violence came after several days of calm following intense Israeli airstrikes in the Strip over the weekend in retaliation for the shooting death of an IDF soldier on the border Friday. On Tuesday, UN mediator Nickolay Mladenov said the sides were “minutes from war” before a tacit ceasefire was reached.
According to the IDF, the sniper fire came as a group of IDF soldiers arrived at a part of the fence that saw a group of 20 minors rioting on the other side. The minors were used as a decoy by the sniper to fire on the soldiers.
Some Hebrew media reports cited initial army assessments that the sniper was not acting on behalf of Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza. Military sources told Army Radio late Wednesday, however, that Hamas had encouraged the demonstration by young Gazans at the fence, drawing an IDF patrol, and then its snipers opened fire on the soldiers.
The sources said the same sequence played out on Friday, when IDF soldier Aviv Levi was shot dead by a Gaza sniper at the border.