Israeli troops opened fire at two members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group planting a bomb along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip early Sunday morning, the military said, with Palestinian media reporting that at least one of the men was killed.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the two were seen approaching the border east of the city of Khan Younis and planting the improvised explosive device along the fence. The military released surveillance camera footage showing the men placing an object next to the fence.
“The troops, who deployed at that location following the detection, opened fire at them,” the military said.
The IDF said a “hit was confirmed,” but refused to comment on the extent of the casualties.
Palestinian media initially reported that the two men were killed by the Israeli gunfire, but later said that only one had died, while the other was critically wounded.
The military later said the men were part of an Islamic Jihad cell that had planted at least two other explosive devices along the border in recent months.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, acknowledged that one of them was a member of the organization, identifying him as Muhammad al-Na’im, 27. The al-Quds Brigades did not specify if the second man was a member of the terror group.
Shortly after the exchange, a second clash broke out as the Israeli military sent an armored bulldozer through the security fence, apparently in order to retrieve the body of the Palestinian man, according to graphic video footage shared on Palestinian social media.
A group of Palestinians, who were also reportedly trying to retrieve the body, threw rocks at the approaching bulldozer. At least two of those men were shot by Israeli troops. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, they sustained injuries to their legs.
The Hamas and PIJ terror groups denounced Israel for retrieving the body.
Islamic Jihad threatened that “the blood of martyrs will not be in vain.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the “maltreatment” of Na’im’s corpse was “another heinous crime that has been added to its record of awful crimes at the expense of our Palestinian people.”
The early morning incident came days after a clash in the same area, in which a sniper team from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group opened fire at a group of Israeli soldiers and police officers along the southern Gaza border, causing no injuries.
The Israeli troops — both IDF soldiers and officers from the police’s counter-terrorism unit — responded with artillery fire “to remove the threat” last Wednesday, the military said.
Then, too, the IDF said it “identified a hit.”
The border clashes come amid reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to broker a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian terror groups in the Strip, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.
On Saturday night, Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman revealed that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, had visited Qatar earlier this month to plead with its leaders to continue their periodical payments to Hamas in order to help maintain calm in the restive Palestinian enclave.
Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip began sending clusters of balloons and kites into Israel laden with explosives beginning in 2018. The practice has waxed and waned over that time, but has picked up considerably in recent weeks, with dozens of such balloon-borne bombs landing in towns and farming communities adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.
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On February 5, the military restricted Gaza’s permitted fishing zone down to 10 nautical miles and canceled some 500 travel permits after weeks of regular rocket fire and the launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel from Gaza.
Last Tuesday, Israel said it would to extend the fishing zone back to 15 nautical miles and increase the number of travel permits from the Strip to 2,000, following three days of relative calm in the coastal enclave.
It said those eased restrictions would continue only if calm remains.
At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the military was planning a “big surprise” for Hamas if the terrorist group failed to rein in violence aimed at southern Israel, amid reports that Israel was contemplating the assassination of two senior Hamas leaders.
The prime minister said he would not subject any decision on Gaza to “political timetables,” with the March 2 election less than two weeks away, adding that he would “choose the right time to take action.”
The London-based pan-Arab website Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported last week that an Egyptian intelligence delegation that visited the Gaza Strip did so after receiving information that Israel was planning to assassinate two prominent Hamas figures.
The website said it had been told by sources that Cairo had persuaded Israel to suspend a decision to assassinate Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Marwan Issa, the leader of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.