The Israel Defense Forces was preparing for a potentially violent afternoon along the Gaza border Friday, a day after a member of Hamas was shot dead by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.”
On Thursday, in an unusual move, the military acknowledged that the man had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.
The army’s statement appeared to be an effort to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence on the border.
Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”
On Friday morning a former Israeli liaison to the Palestinians assessed that Hamas would not launch a major escalation with Israel despite Thursday’s incident.
Eitan Dangot, formerly the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, told Army Radio Hamas had an interest in maintaining the peace and upholding the ceasefire with Israel, as it opened up the potential for an improvement in the Strip’s financial situation.
“There is progress here and economic potential, and Hamas needs to consider whether it wants to ruin that,” Dangot said. “It has a lot to lose if things get out of control… I don’t believe there will be an extreme escalation today.”
The Hamas field commander killed in the incident was Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28.
Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza. Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.
Thursday’s border incident came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.
On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.
Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report.