1st IDF Gaza fatality since 2014's Operation Protective Edge

Hamas announces ceasefire after killing of IDF soldier near Gaza sparks strikes

Soldier wounded by sniper fire on Friday dies of his wounds; IDF says three Hamas battalion headquarters destroyed in reprisal raids; 3 projectiles fired at Israel, 2 intercepted

Illustrative image of explosions from Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Illustrative image of explosions from Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Hamas announced a ceasefire with Israel in the early hours of Saturday morning, after Palestinian snipers shot and killed an IDF soldier on the Gaza border earlier on Friday, sparking the night’s widespread Israeli strikes on Hamas targets across Gaza.

“With Egyptian and UN efforts, [an agreement] was reached to return to the previous situation of ceasefire between the occupation and Palestinian factions,” tweeted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Israel had no official comment on the ceasefire announcement.

The IDF announced the death of the soldier late Friday night, revealing details on the deadly incident hours after it happened.

“Today, an IDF combat soldier was killed during operational activity near the southern Gaza Strip. During the incident, a terrorist squad shot at IDF troops and the IDF soldier was severely injured. He later succumbed to his wounds,” the army said.

Details of the death were withheld for several hours until the soldier’s family were notified. His name was not immediately published.

The death was the first of an Israeli soldier on the Gaza front since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Earlier the IDF said Gaza snipers had opened fire on troops, calling it the “most serious incident since the 2014 Gaza war.

In response the Israel Air Force launched a major wave of strikes at Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip on Friday evening.

“At this time our aircraft are carrying out widespread attacks against terror targets belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said, adding that this came after the “serious shooting incident against our forces,” referring to sniper fire at IDF troops during a riot on the border earlier in the day.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows a fireball exploding in Gaza City during Israeli strikes (AFP PHOTO / BASHAR TALEB)

The army said around 60 targets were hit, including three Hamas brigade headquarters in Zeitoun, Khan Younis and al-Bureij. The army said the headquarters were completely destroyed along with “weapons and ammunition stores, training grounds, observation posts, control centers and the offices of the brigade commander.”

The IDF said it also destroyed factories and machinery for the manufacture of weapons, a drone storage facility, an entry shaft to tunnels and “elements for constructing underground infrastructure.”

There were no reports from Gaza of injuries in the strikes.

“The strikes are continuing,” the IDF said, releasing video of the strikes.

Following the strikes, rocket warning sirens wailed in communities around Gaza. At least two projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system and another fell in an open field, the army said. There were no reports of projectiles falling in Israeli communities or injuries.

The air raids came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the IDF headwaters in Tel Aviv to join Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the top IDF generals for a security assessment.

The IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis did not rule out a major ground offensive, but said the IDF was not looking to enter a full-scale conflict. Nonetheless, the fire on the troops at the border was “the most serious incident” since the 2014 conflict, Manelis said, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had spent the years since then ensuring that the army was ready for “whatever response is necessary.”

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising after an Israeli bombardment in Gaza City.
Israeli aircraft and tanks hit targets throughout the Gaza Strip on July 20 after shots were fired at troops along the border, the army said, with Gaza’s health ministry reporting three Palestinians killed. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Hadashot news that Israel was preparing for a massive response on Gaza.

“Last week the air force carried out strikes that were described as the largest since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, we will look back at it after our response now and say it was a joke,” Hanegbi said. “The gloves are coming off.”

“The situation is that Hamas has repeatedly ignored our warnings, both private and public,” Hanegbi said.

Hadashot news analysts said that while Israel’s response would be widespread, it was unlikely to include the entrance of ground forces.

Israelis living close to the Gaza border were told to stay close to bomb shelters, and not to attend synagogues for Friday evening prayers in larger numbers than could be accommodated in protected rooms if Gaza terror groups were to launch rocket attacks.

Reports said that Israeli special forces had been stationed near border communities to prevent possible Hamas attacks through attack tunnels into Israel.

Manelis said that Hamas had spent the past three and a half months carrying out acts of terrorism during mass demonstrations at the border, firing rockets and mortar shells into Israel, and launching arson kites and balloons. Israel had tried to convey to the terror chiefs that it “means business” in demanding that the terrorism stop, but Hamas evidently had not got the message, he told Hadashot TV news.

Manelis noted that the IDF carried out a major drill this week, including simulating a ground incursion to retake control of Gaza, from where Israel withdrew in 2005. Asked whether that was a likely scenario, Manelis said it would be more sensible to wait for the completion of the current military action “over the next few hours.”

He noted that Israel had deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the south and center of the country, and said the IDF was prepared “for all scenarios.”

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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