Special forces were apparently trying to install spying gear in Gaza, Hamas says

Terror group claims IDF soldiers were seeking to boost Israel’s eavesdropping capabilities, in incident that touched off an intense round of fighting

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

Israeli special forces who entered the Gaza Strip early last week appeared to have been attempting to install equipment that would make it easier for Israel to eavesdrop on Palestinians in the coastal enclave, a Hamas official said.

Last Sunday, a group of Israeli soldiers was discovered while deep in southern Gaza, in an operation that went awry, resulting in a deadly clash that left one senior IDF officer and seven Palestinian fighters dead, touching off a day of fierce rocket fire from the Strip and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

“The Zionist enemy tried to achieve a major security breakthrough. It apparently tried to install equipment and build something that would make it easy for it to kill, hack and abduct,” Deputy Hamas chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya told the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV on Saturday.

“To make it easy for them to do anything. To make it easy to eavesdrop on all parts of the Palestinian people,” he said. “It possibly could have made it easy for them to discover tunnels and other things.”

An IDF spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations by Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel.

The Israeli special forces entered Gaza in a civilian vehicle, but members of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, stopped and questioned them, the Qassam Brigades said in a statement last week.

Shortly thereafter, an armed clash ensued between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian gunmen, the statement added.

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car allegedly used by Israeli special forces during a raid in Gaza, which was was later destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Israeli forces fled Gaza under cover of airstrikes, according to both the IDF and Hamas.

In the armed clash, an Israel lieutenant colonel and seven Palestinian gunmen, including a deputy brigade commander in Hamas’s armed wing, were killed.

Last week, IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis praised the Israeli forces who raided Gaza.

“IDF troops that operated last night in the Gaza Strip became trapped in a highly complex situation. The soldiers acted heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory,” Manelis said in a statement.

For their part, the Qassam Brigades spoke highly of their fighters who clashed with the Israeli forces and asserted that they had foiled “a major and hostile Zionist plan.”

The raid sparked a major barrage of rockets and mortar shells fired by Hamas and other terrorist groups from the Strip that brought the region to the brink of war.

An apartment on the second floor of a building in Ashkelon that suffered a direct hit from a rocket fired from Gaza on November 13, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

In all, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of around 24 hours on Monday And Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.

In response, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

The fighting ended on Tuesday after a Hamas-announced ceasefire took effect, though this was not officially confirmed by Israel.

The decision to halt attacks on Gaza was criticized by many in Israel and was cited by Avigdor Liberman in his decision Wednesday to resign as defense minister, a move expected to bring early elections for the Knesset.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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