Israeli soldiers shot dead three Palestinians on Sunday, part of a group of four men who the army said attempted to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza in order to carry out an attack.
The Israel Defense Forces said the men were found to be in possession of an ax, two bottles of lighter fluid, a lighter, a bolt cutter and a GoPro camera.
Israeli soldiers who were called to the scene opened fire on the men, killing three of them.
The military refused to comment on whether the fourth man was captured or fled back into the Gaza Strip. It later confirmed that it was holding one of the bodies.
“From an initial investigation it appears the four-man cell arrived at the security fence in order to infiltrate into Israeli territory in an attempt to carry out a terror attack,” the army said in a statement.
A military spokesperson clarified that the planned attack appeared to be an attempt to damage the security infrastructure along the Gaza border or potentially attack IDF soldiers.
The army has been concerned that terrorists from the Gaza Strip may again attempt to disrupt the construction of the underground barrier around the coastal enclave, as occurred in March when a Hamas cell tried to set fire to engineering equipment.
The army later released photographs from the scene, showing the blood-covered axe and other gear that had been in the suspects’ possession.
The IDF also would not comment on what was done with the bodies of the three suspects. In previous cases, the army has taken into its custody the bodies of Palestinians who were killed infiltrating into Israeli territory.
The military said the men were under surveillance as they “moved suspiciously” toward the Gaza fence, broke through it and crossed into Israeli territory.
“IDF troops arrived at the scene and charged the terrorists while opening fire, which killed three of them,” the army said.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza confirmed that two Palestinians had been killed.
The incident came amid tensions along the security fence in recent weeks, with the Palestinians holding mass marches near the border, and in some cases rioting.
Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas leaders, whom it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests, which it has dubbed the “March of Return.”
Overnight Saturday, Israeli military aircraft struck a Hamas site in the northern Gaza Strip used as a launching pad for incendiary kites, the military said Sunday.
For the past several weeks, Gazans have been regularly flying kites outfitted with containers of burning fuel, often including charcoal and bags of sugar to ensure a long, slow burn. The incendiaries have started large blazes in crop fields on the Israeli side of the border, causing an estimated tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
Earlier Saturday, a large blast rocked the central Gaza Strip, killing at least six members of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing, the terror group said.
It blamed Israel for the explosion, claiming it was caused by an Israeli espionage device that self-destructed after being discovered.
Palestinian media, by contrast, said it was a “work accident,” meaning that the terrorists were killed by their own explosives.
Friday saw the sixth week of demonstrations as part of the “March of Return.” At least 431 Palestinians were injured, Gaza officials said, as some 7,000 took part in the demonstrations, flew dozens of kites with petrol bombs into Israel, hurled stones at soldiers and tried to breach the border fence. There were no Palestinian deaths reported on Friday, unlike in previous weeks.
According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Several of those dead have been identified by Israel as members of terror groups. Hamas acknowledged that five of those killed on the first Friday of protests in March were its members, but has since refrained for such admissions.