Israeli troops fended off an attempted incursion into Israeli territory by a cell of eight armed Hamas operatives in the northern Gaza Strip during Monday’s border clashes, the army said Tuesday.
All eight suspected terrorists were killed in the gun battle with soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Maglan Unit, the military said.
On Monday, some 40,000 Palestinians participated in violent riots along the Gaza security fence. As of Tuesday, 60 Palestinians were reported killed in the clashes by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, and another 2,771 injured to varying degrees.
On Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said that, in total, at least 24 of the people killed by Israeli troops on Monday were later identified as known members of terrorist organizations.
“Most of the people killed belonged to the Hamas terror group, and some to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the army said, citing the findings of a joint investigation with the Shin Bet security service.
The Israeli military maintains that Monday’s demonstration, and those that preceded it, was not a popular uprising, but was instead a Hamas-led military operation to carry out attacks on IDF soldiers and potentially Israeli civilians under the cover of innocent protests.
The army pointed to the clashes between the Maglan forces and eight Hamas operatives as proof of that.
According to the IDF, in the early hours of Monday afternoon, the military “received informations about preparations by Hamas members to cross the security fence” in the northern Gaza Strip.
A team from Maglan, a special forces unit trained in operating behind enemy lines, was sent to the scene shortly after 1 p.m., according to the army.
“There, eight armed terrorists began throwing pipe bombs and grenades at the troops and the fence,” the army said.
Surveillance footage from the clash shows the suspected terrorists hiding behind a pile of burning tires. As the army jeeps pull up, at least six explosives are seen being thrown toward the border.
“In order to drive them back from the fence, the troops used riot dispersal means. In response, the Hamas terror operatives opened fire at them,” the army said in a statement.
According to the commander of the Maglan team, once the Hamas members opened fire, the rest of the protesters in the area quickly fled the scene.
“The masses completely scattered and so I gave the order to open fire,” said the commander, whose name was not authorized to be used.
“The soldiers operated professionally, with great courage and accuracy, and prevented a serious shooting attack against our troops,” the commander said.
In its statement, the army said the Hamas team’s plan was to “cross the fence, under the cover of civilian [protesters],” and enter Israeli territory. This assessment seemed to come from the discovery of wire cutters and crowbars at the scene, as well as pistols, hand grenades, and explosives.
It was unclear what happened with the eight suspected terrorists’ bodies. The IDF refused to comment on the issue.
In the past, the Israeli military has taken the bodies of suspects into custody in order to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations for the return of two Israelis and two slain IDF soldiers who are currently being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Following the foiled attack, the IDF also bombarded a Hamas outpost in the northern Gaza Strip, using a tank and an aircraft, the army said.
In total, the IDF said four shooting attacks by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers took place throughout the day along the Gaza border, as well as four attacks with improvised explosive devices.