An Israeli tank fired on an Islamic Jihad position in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, killing three people, after Palestinians planted an explosive device along the security fence in the latest exchange along the restive border, the army said.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, two people were killed and one was seriously injured in the Israeli strike, near the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The health ministry later announced the third person had died.
A spokesperson for the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed that the men were members of the group’s military arm.
The Israel Defense Forces said the improvised explosive device was placed along the security fence on Saturday.
The army said the IED had been disguised to look like a set of bolt cutters, with the explosives hidden inside the handles.
“Its goal was to injure the [IDF] troops operating in the area. It was neutralized this morning by the IDF,” the army said.
A robot was used in the efforts to defuse the explosive. The device exploded during the disarming attempt, the army said.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad post that was targeted in the tank strike overlooked the portion of the fence where the IED had been planted.
In general, the IDF targets Hamas positions in response to attacks or attempted attacks from the Gaza Strip, as the terrorist group rules the coastal enclave.
The targeting of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad position likely indicates that the army had specific intelligence that the Iran-backed group was behind the attempted IED attack.
The Gazan health ministry identified two of those killed as Hussein al-Amour, 25, and Abdul Haleem al-Naqa, 28.
“We will not give up our duty to the blood of the martyrs shed by the occupation, and we know how to respond to this dangerous escalation,” the Islamic Jihad spokesperson said.
In February, four IDF soldiers were injured by an IED that was made to look like a flagstaff, which was fixed to the security fence. When the soldiers tried to take down the object, it was detonated.
Sunday morning’s exchange was the latest in a series of cross-border incidents over the weekend.
Late Saturday night, Israeli aircraft carried out a series of strikes against Hamas positions in the southern Gaza Strip late Saturday night, following a border breach earlier in the day, the army said.
“The Israel Defense Forces, using fighter jets, attacked a number of terror targets in an military compound belonging to the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.
Palestinian media reported that the airstrikes hit a number of Hamas positions in the areas of Rafah and Khan Younis.
The Gazan health ministry said it had not received any reports of injuries.
The army said its airstrikes were in response to the infiltration earlier in the day.
“The IDF takes seriously the continued daily attempts by the Hamas terror group to damage the security infrastructure in Israel, while threatening the security of residents and soldiers,” the army said.
As a matter of policy, the Israeli army considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, to be responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.
On Saturday morning, IDF soldiers spotted four Palestinians who crossed the security fence into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip.
According to the army, the four threw a firebomb, and left a tent inside Israel with the message: “March of Return: Returning to the lands of Palestine.”
The soldiers arrived at the scene moments later and opened fire at the individuals, who in turn fled back to the Palestinian side of the fence. No injuries were reported in the Saturday morning incident.
The infiltration was one of numerous attempts over the weekend to breach and damage the border fence, the IDF said.
Dozens of burning kites were flown from Gaza across the border over the weekend, sparking several fires in Israeli fields, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday night. In the past month, 300 “attack” kites have been flown across the border, the report said, setting off 100 fires.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly protests which Israel says are orchestrated by Hamas and used as cover for attempted terror attacks and breaches of the border fence.
The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue.Over 10,000 Gazans took part in the demonstrations in the course of Friday and Saturday, the army said.
The demonstrations came to a head on May 14 when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem and at least 60 Palestinians were killed in clashes — almost all of them Hamas members, the terror group has acknowledged.
The suspects stayed in Israeli territory for about a minute. During the infiltration, the suspects hurled a firebomb that burst into flames & placed a tent with the caption- "The March of the return. Returning to the lands of Palestine." pic.twitter.com/gUsylt72ZZ
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 26, 2018
In recent weeks, Gazans have been flying kites into Israel outfitted with Molotov cocktails and containers of burning fuel, setting fire to large swaths of fields.
On Friday, strong winds hampered efforts to control fires which broke out at three points near Kibbutz Kissufim along the Gaza border, after incendiary kites were flown into Israel from the Palestinian coastal enclave.
Military planners have begun implementing new measures to combat the assaults, including lethal options drawn from the IDF’s responses to rocket launches and other terror attacks.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.