The Israel Defense Forces believes the three Palestinian teenagers who were shot dead after they crossed the Gaza security fence Tuesday evening were planning to carry out a terror attack, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said Wednesday.
The military does not yet know if the trio — all of them aged 17 or 18, from refugee camps near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza — was sent by a Palestinian terror group, but are investigating the matter, Zilberman told reporters.
Asked if the military anticipated Palestinian terror groups to fire rockets at Israel in response to the incident, he said the IDF was not on particularly high alert but is, as always, prepared with air defenses.
The incident came amid rising tensions in Gaza, as terrorists have begun flying numerous bombs and incendiary devices into Israeli territory from the Palestinian enclave with the aid of helium-filled balloons — attacks that have largely gone unanswered by the IDF.
The army spokesman said the military’s assessment that the three teenagers, who were armed with improvised explosive devices, a knife and a screwdriver, planned to carry out a terror attack was based on the location where they crossed — a portion of the fence near a wooded area that has been used for terrorist infiltrations in the past — as well as their actions once inside Israeli territory.
“There are those who cross, then stop; those who cross, then run; and those who cross, then continue like they have a mission. They did the last two things,” Zilberman said.
“This wasn’t a spontaneous crossing,” he added.
According to Zilberman, the three were under IDF surveillance from 8:35 p.m., before they crossed into Israeli territory, as they moved toward the security fence.
They entered Israel some two kilometers from the community of Kibbutz Kissufim and were quickly surrounded by troops from the Kfir Brigade’s Haruv Battalion and a tank battalion.
“Once they were surrounded, the terrorists realized they’d been spotted and threw two bombs at the troops,” Zilberman said.
The soldiers opened fire, killing the three assailants.
Earlier Wednesday IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi met with the soldiers involved in the clash and praised them for their rapid response, Zilberman said.
Israeli officials believe the Palestinian terror group Hamas is behind the recent escalating tensions, as the group — the de facto rulers of Gaza — seeks to signal its displeasure with the slow progress of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire with Israel.
Officials on Monday assessed that the group could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, being held in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday — either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, according to a Channel 13 report.
The report said Israel had warned Hamas that it would respond forcefully to any attempt to disrupt the summit of world leaders, and would not hesitate to strike the terror group in the Gaza Strip in response to such provocations, regardless of the intensified international focus.
The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place on January 23 at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.