The Israeli military on Thursday said a misunderstanding led its troops to kill a member of the Hamas terror group as he was trying to prevent Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence earlier in the day.
The highly irregular acknowledgment of such a mistake appeared to be an effort by the Israel Defense Forces to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence.
“This morning, IDF soldiers spotted a number of Palestinians in the area of the security fence in the northern Strip. An initial investigation determined that it was a member of Hamas’s restraint force who had come to the area because of two Palestinians who were moving toward [the fence],” the army said in a statement.
The Israeli soldiers opened fire at the Hamas field commander, Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28, fatally wounding him. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
“The IDF troops who arrived in the area had identified the restraint operative as an armed terrorist and opened fire due to a misunderstanding. The incident will be investigated,” the army said.
The military’s statement was released shortly after the various terror groups in the Gaza Strip convened their joint operations committee to discuss a possible retaliation to the incident, according to Palestinian media reports.
Earlier in the day, Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”
Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza. Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.
According to Hamas, the field commander was shot while “performing his duty in the perimeter protectors force.”
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that al-Adham was moderately injured by the Israeli gunfire, sustaining a wound to the leg, but was later pronounced dead.
The Hamas-affiliated Shehab news outlet reported that, in a separate incident, Israeli soldiers fired shots at an observation post east of the southern Gazan city of Rafah on Thursday morning. There were no injuries reported in that incident, and it was not immediately clear what preceded the reported gunfire.
Thursday’s border incidents come amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.
On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.
AFP contributed to this report.