An IDF tank shelled a Hamas post on Tuesday, reportedly killing two Hamas fighters. The army initially said the strike came after Israeli soldiers patrolling the Gaza Strip border came under fire from the post.
Hamas denied the men had shot at the troops, and said they were participating in a naval commando drill attended by Hamas leaders.
Army officials later acknowledged that the fighters had likely not fired at the soldiers, Channel 10 news reported.
IDF officials told Haaretz the strike was justified. A force that identifies gunfire near the border fence that may endanger soldiers is compelled to respond, and is not expected to check the intent behind the shooting, they said.
According to Channel 10 the army has conveyed messages to Hamas via Egypt acknowledging the error, but insisting that retaliatory fire on IDF troops would not be tolerated.
Hamas said the two dead men were snipers who participated in the drill, Ahmad Marjan and Abd al-Hafiz al-Silawi, both 23. Another six were injured in the Israeli strike, Palestinian media reported.
The IDF released footage it said showed the Hamas men firing and the shell hitting the post.
Hamas threatened to avenge their deaths and warned Israel that it would pay for the attack.
“The resistance cannot allow the occupation to impose a policy of bombing sites and targeting fighters without paying the price,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile 10 fires broke out in the Gaza periphery throughout the day due to incendiary devices launched from the Strip into Israel. All were brought under control by firefighters.
The latest IDF strike in Gaza came amid reports that Israel and Hamas could be nearing a truce that would see a halt in the cross-border attacks and the easing of the blockade of the Strip.
On Monday, two Palestinians were injured in an Israeli airstrike targeting a group launching flaming balloons into southern Israel.
Incendiary balloons and flaming kites launched by Gazans have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding Gaza since April, sparking fires that have scorched thousands of acres of farmlands and countryside.
Hamas’s political leadership met on Monday with top officials in its military to discuss its preparedness for battle with Israel, according to a report in the Ynet news site, highlighting the group’s skepticism of reaching a long-term ceasefire.
The meeting came a day after Israeli political and military brass huddled for several hours, but did not release any concrete decisions. Following the meeting, a statement from the cabinet said “the IDF is prepared for any scenario.” It gave no indication if any decision on the truce had been made.
Palestinian sources told Ynet that the Hamas meeting took place in response to the Israeli statement and that Hamas leaders warned they could inflict casualties that the Israeli public and government would not be able to tolerate.
A senior Hamas source in Gaza said he was unaware of the meeting.
Hamas, a terror group that officially seeks Israel’s destruction, is the de facto ruler of the Strip.
Earlier Monday, the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, reported that the first stage of the potential truce would see Israel fully reopen the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and increase the fishing zone off the Gaza coast. It added that in return, Hamas official said the Strip’s rulers would commit to halting all attacks against Israel.
The second phase of the deal would include Hamas-Israel talks for a prisoner exchange agreement, and the implementation of long-proposed humanitarian projects in Gaza, the report said.