IDF opens fire to stop two apparent infiltration attempts along Gaza fence

Palestinian media reports 5 injured in border incidents, which come after overnight clashes; emergency room evacuated when ‘suspicious objects’ found in wounded Gazan teen’s pocket

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. Palestinians pull on a metal cable as they try to take down a section of barbed wire on the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Illustrative. Palestinians pull on a metal cable as they try to take down a section of barbed wire on the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The Israeli military said it thwarted two border breaches along the Gaza security fence on Wednesday, shooting at the would-be infiltrators, injuring five of them, according to Palestinian media.

The two border incidents came less than a day after a flareup between the Israel Defense Forces and terror groups in Gaza in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning. The air force conducted airstrikes early Wednesday in response to numerous arson attacks from the coastal enclave, and the various terrorist organizations in the Strip retaliated by firing over a dozen rockets into southern Israel.

The first infiltration attempt occurred on Wednesday afternoon in the northern Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

“IDF troops spotted a number of suspects trying to cross the fence in the northern Gaza Strip. The soldiers fired shots toward them,” the army said.

Israeli soldiers drag away an injured Palestinian who the army says tried to breach the border fence east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on June 27, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“As a result one of the suspects was injured and has been taken for medical treatment and will then be handed over for questioning,” the IDF spokesperson said.

According to Palestinian media, the suspect who was shot was 15 years old. He was said to be in serious condition.

Photographs from the scene showed the IDF troops carrying away the injured Palestinian teenager from the Gaza side of the security fence.

Israeli soldiers carry away an injured Palestinian who the army says tried to breach the border fence east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on June 27, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

He was taken to the nearby Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon for treatment. In the emergency room, doctors found two heavy metal objects in the his pants pocket that they believed might be explosives, prompting them to clear the area and call the police.

A police sapper investigated the suspicious objects and found that they were not explosives and the medical workers were allowed back in, a police spokesperson said.

According to the army, the objects were empty, used tear gas canisters that he’d hidden by holding them near his wound.

The suspect had been checked for explosives by the soldiers before he was brought to the hospital. The military planned to investigate how he was examined in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The second attempted border breach took place on the opposite end of the Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah.

According to the IDF, a group of three Palestinians “damaged the fence and tried to infiltrate into Israeli territory. Troops responded by firing at the terrorists and thwarting the infiltration.”

Palestinian media reported that four Palestinians, not three, had been injured in the incident. It was not immediately clear what accounted for the discrepancy.

The security situation along the restive Gaza border has been especially tense in recent weeks, owing to a number of significant clashes between the Israeli military and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, notably Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Wednesday morning’s violence marked one such exchange.

Throughout the day on Tuesday, Palestinians launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel, sparking several fires in the area.

In response, shortly after 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces launched a number of strikes in the Gaza Strip. One targeted a car that the army said belonged to a senior Hamas operative involved in the airborne arson attacks. The army said it also used an additional aircraft and a tank to strike two Hamas outposts in the north of the Strip.

Palestinians said the vehicle that was hit belonged to one of the Hamas terror group’s field commanders and was parked in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp. There were no casualties reported, indicating the car was empty at the time.

In response, Palestinians launched over a dozen rockets at southern Israel, setting off sirens throughout the south and sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters from approximately 1:45 a.m. to 4 a.m. in the Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions.

At least three rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. There were no reports of casualties or damage in Israel. In addition, no rocket impacts were reported inside Israeli communities.

In the hours following the flareup, the army and the relevant regional councils held a “situational assessment” meeting and decided to allow schools to open as usual on Wednesday. No special instructions were given to residents of the area, according to local government officials.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a warning to Hamas after the rocket attacks, saying the group “would pay the price for the terror and the instability.”

An illustrative photo of a firefighter extinguishing a fire in a field near the Gaza Strip that was sparked by a flaming object flown from the Palestinian enclave, on June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.

However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.

“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.

This was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks. On June 18 and 20, Hamas and its ally the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched similar rocket and mortar attacks at southern Israel after the IDF conducted airstrikes against Hamas positions in response to repeated arson attacks.

On Tuesday, Palestinians said Israeli drones destroyed two cars and an observation post in Gaza that were being used by a group of Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel. The military confirmed that its aircraft conducted three strikes in response to repeated arson attacks from the coastal enclave.

No Palestinian injuries were reported.

The IDF conducted similar airstrikes on Sunday, firing at groups of Gazans launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel. In one case, three people were injured as an IDF drone fired a missile at a cart being used by the group, according to local Palestinian media.

On Monday, a total of 11 fires were caused in southern Israel by airborne arson devices, according to local government officials.

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.

Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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