Possibility of Gaza war in balance, as IDF troops caught in gunfight with Hamas
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Possibility of Gaza war in balance, as IDF troops caught in gunfight with Hamas

Israeli sources dispute Hamas claim that Israeli special forces were sent to kill senior commander, say the troops were on a less dramatic operation when exposed

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet security service and other senior defense officials in the army's Tel Aviv headquarters on November 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet security service and other senior defense officials in the army's Tel Aviv headquarters on November 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris late Sunday and headed home following an outbreak of fighting in Gaza during a raid by Israeli special forces, the possibility, but not the certainty, of another Israel-Hamas war loomed.

Hamas claimed that the late Sunday fighting was sparked by an assassination raid by Israeli special forces, in which Nour Barake, the commander of Hamas’s tunneling forces in the Khan Younis area, was killed. Six other Palestinians terrorists were also reported dead, five of them Hamas members.

Of the seven, three were killed on the ground, and three in Israeli strikes, according to Palestinian reports. One person was injured and later died of his wounds.

The IDF later confirmed that a special forces officer had been killed and another injured in the raid. The military censor prevented news of the IDF officer’s death and the second officer’s injuries from being published until their families could be notified. The names of the soldiers were not immediately released.

IDF strikes in Gaza, November 11, 2018 (Channel 10 screenshot)

However, initial reports based on Israeli military sources said the special forces raid, three kilometers into Gaza, was not an assassination operation, noting that Israel has not targeted terror chiefs in Gaza for assassination of late.

Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to seal an agreement to achieve calm on the Gaza, including by allowing the influx of $15 million in cash from Qatar to pay salaries for Palestinian officials there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second left, and his wife Sara, left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, right, and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan attend ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, Pool)

Rather, the initial Israeli reports indicated, the special forces action was an intelligence-gathering operation, which had been completed without gunfire when the Israeli unit was spotted, identified and intercepted.

It was then that the exchanges of fire broke out, as Israel sought to extricate its forces, the initial reports indicated.

Hamas terrorist Nour Barakeh (Hadashot TV Screenshot)

Netanyahu, these first reports also noted, would not have been likely to have flown to Paris, as he did for Sunday’s World War I centenary events, were a high-risk assassination raid about to unfold, necessitating his hurried return home.

While aspects of the Gaza flareup remained subject to military censorship late Sunday, the IDF did move quickly to state that, contrary to rumor, no Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped in the fighting.

School was canceled Monday for residents of Israeli communities near Gaza, but Israeli officials indicated that the situation might be reassessed overnight. Everything would depend, military sources said late Sunday, on how Hamas decided to respond to the deaths of six of its members in an incident that left Israel and Gaza poised between the possibility of an agreement for calm and the prospect of war.

At time of writing, Hamas had fired nine rockets into Israel, at least two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

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