Troops along the border with Gaza thwarted an infiltration attempt by four Palestinians armed with AK-47 rifles, RPG launchers and hand grenades, shooting them dead as one of them hurled a grenade at the soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces said early Saturday.
The four Gazans were killed by Israeli soldiers who “opened fire once one of the terrorists scaled the fence,” the military said in a statement, adding that a hand grenade was launched at the troops during the clash but none of the soldiers were injured.
Israeli troops “opened fire after one of the terrorists scaled the barrier and hurled a grenade at the soldiers,” the army said.
The IDF said lookout troops spotted the cell approaching the fence from the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, and alerted soldiers stationed nearby.
One of the four had crossed the fence into Israel, and the other three were in the process of crossing the border when they were stopped, Israel’s Channel 13 news reported later Saturday.
The infiltration appeared to have been carefully planned, with the quartet heavily armed, including with anti-tank rockets. Palestinian media reported that some or all of the four were former Hamas terrorists.
Shortly after the incident, Israeli aircraft targeted an outpost operated by Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, near Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, in response. Gunfire was also heard near the Israeli border community of Kissufim close to where the infiltration attempt occurred, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media as well as Palestinian press.
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The incident comes as organizers of Friday’s weekly protests and riots this week along the Israel-Gaza border called them off due to the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins on Sunday. Last Friday, some 6,000 Gazans took part in the protests.
Recent months saw a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near-nightly riots and airborne arson attacks, but the violence waned in recent weeks due to a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
However, tensions flared again earlier this week after West Bank after terrorists stabbed to death 18-year-old Dvir Sorek outside the settlement of Migdal Oz. His body was found in the predawn hours on Thursday outside the settlement where he was studying in seminary.
Overnight Friday-Saturday, IDF troops conducted search raids in the Palestinian village of Beit Kahil, near Hebron in the southern West Bank, according to Palestinian media reports. There were some clashes between villagers and Israeli soldiers but no injuries were reported.
On Friday, Israeli security forces reportedly arrested a 29-year-old suspect from the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, near Migdal Oz, during the widespread manhunt or the killers, according to Palestinian reports.
Soldiers also reportedly seized the car of the suspect over suspicions it was used in Wednesday’s attack.
The Ynet news site said that Israeli security forces apparently knew the identity of the killer or killers.
There was no confirmation of the arrest from the army, which said in a statement the manhunt for the terrorists was ongoing.
Sorek, 18, was studying at a seminary as part of a program combining Torah study and military service. He was last seen leaving the settlement Wednesday to buy books for his teachers in Jerusalem.
In an effort to locate the terrorists who carried out the Wednesday night attack, the Shin Bet security service, assisted by the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, launched a massive manhunt in the surrounding area on Thursday morning and the military deployed additional troops throughout the West Bank.
The military fears the terrorists may attempt to carry out additional attacks or serve as inspiration for other would-be attackers. These concerns were especially heightened in light of the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av on Sunday.
Security forces were also reportedly concerned the terror cell behind the deadly stabbing attack may have split up, making the search effort more difficult. The group is believed to be receiving assistance to evade capture.
As of Thursday night, no one had taken responsibility for killing Sorek. However, two of the largest Palestinian terror groups — Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad — praised the attack and indicated it was a response to a recent wave of East Jerusalem demolitions carried out by Israel last month.
In a statement, Hamas said it praised “our people’s heroic fighters who carried out the heroic operation that killed a soldier in the occupation’s army.” Hamas, a jihadist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.
Hazem Qassim, a spokesperson for Hamas, told the Gaza-based Shehab news outlet that the attack was proof of the failure of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority security forces.
The cooperation is seen as a key component to Israeli security operations in the West Bank and is seen as a bulwark against Hamas.
In recent months, the Shin Bet warned that the Gaza-based Hamas has put considerable effort and resources into recruiting operatives to carry out attacks in the West Bank and Israel.