Israeli forces shot dead a group of armed Palestinians along the Gaza Strip’s security fence late Saturday night, hours after three rockets were fired at southern Israel from the restive coastal enclave.
The exact number of Palestinians killed during the suspected infiltration was not immediately known — Gaza-based news outlets reported four or five people killed in the strike, but the health ministry in the enclave put the toll at three.
The Israeli military said an attack helicopter and a tank were used to kill the suspected terrorists as they approached the fence.
“A short while ago, IDF troops spotted armed suspects near the security fence around the northern Gaza Strip. An IDF attack helicopter and a tank fired at them,” the army said in a statement.
Israeli troops also fired flares throughout the area in order to assist in the efforts to locate the suspected terrorists.
An army spokesperson said there were no reports of Israeli casualties.
The Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center said the men had been on the Gaza side of the fence when they were killed, and that some of the bodies had been confiscated by Israel, citing “local sources.” The reports could not be confirmed.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said that Israel later conducted artillery strikes on its positions east of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, near where the men had approached the fence to enter Israel.
Palestinian media reported that the men were members of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, Saraya al-Quds. This could not be immediately confirmed.
The suspected infiltration attempt came as violence between Israel and Gaza has ramped up considerably in the last three weeks.
On Saturday night, the cities of Beersheba, Ashdod, Ofakim, Gan Yavne and Yavne opened their municipal bomb shelters ahead of expected reprisal rocket attacks. The Magen David Adom ambulance service also said it was going on high alert.
Earlier on Saturday night, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired three rockets at southern Israel, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the military said.
Fragments from one of the Gaza rockets struck the yard of a home in the town of Sderot, causing damage.
There were no physical injuries caused by the shrapnel in Sderot. One woman received medical treatment after she suffered an acute anxiety attack because of the impact, medics said.
In addition, two people sustained minor injuries while running to bomb shelters, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service. Elsewhere, three other people were treated for acute anxiety attacks brought on by the rockets. One of them, a 76-year-old woman, required hospitalization, medics said.
Shrapnel also landed inside a community in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel, northeast of Gaza, causing no injuries, local officials said.
It was the second night in a row that sirens sounded in Sderot.
On Friday night, terrorists in the Strip fired at least one rocket into Israel, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the IDF said.
There were no reports of injury or damage.
In response, the Israeli military struck two underground sites belonging to Hamas.
The rocket fire came after several thousand Palestinians joined protests on the Gaza Strip border earlier Friday, with several hundred rioting and throwing stones and explosive devices at Israeli troops.
Soldiers responded with tear gas and occasional live fire. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 16 Palestinians had been injured.
For the past year, Palestinians have staged regular marches on the Gaza border known collectively as the Great March of Return. The spring of 2019 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 the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
However, recent weeks have also seen several serious infiltration attempts into Israel.
In a span of 10 days, six armed Palestinian terrorists — many of them current and former Hamas members — got through the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip before being killed by Israeli troops. In one case on August 1, the gunman opened fire at IDF soldiers, injuring three of them, before he was shot dead.
Last Saturday, a group of four heavily armed terrorists, carrying assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rations, attempted to infiltrate Israeli territory before they were spotted and shot dead by troops on the border.
The Hamas terror group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has sought to distance itself from these attacks, saying they were carried out by angry young men.
Hamas deployed additional troops to the frontier in a bid to prevent breaches of the border fence, understanding that these cross-border attacks risked provoking a harsh response by the Israeli military, according to the Palestinian Amad news outlet.