Rocket sirens blared in Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip and security chiefs huddled for urgent consultations late Wednesday as a fresh flareup on the volatile border threatened to once again send the region spiraling toward wider confrontation.
Earlier in the evening, an Israeli officer was moderately injured by sniper fire and the military responded with strikes on a number of Hamas positions in Gaza, killing three members of the terror group.
Initial reports suggested two rockets were launched into Israel, hitting open areas, after alarms sounded in the Hof Ashkelon, Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev regional councils at about 11:30 p.m.
The Shaar Hanegev Regional Council said one projectile fell in an open field. The IDF said it was still investigating.
Sirens sounded again in Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev just after midnight.
In Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat met at Defense Ministry headquarters for urgent consultations on the increase in tensions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was updated by the group by telephone, according to Army Radio.
The outburst of violence came after several days of calm following intense Israeli airstrikes in the Strip over the weekend in retaliation for the shooting death of an IDF soldier on the border Friday. On Tuesday, UN mediator Nikolas Mladenov said the sides were “minutes from war” before a tacit ceasefire was reached.
The soldier injured by sniper fire from southern Gaza on Wednesday was rushed to Soroka hospital in Beersheba, where he underwent surgery for gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, according to a hospital spokesperson. His condition was initially described as serious, but was upgraded to moderate after the surgery.
In response, the IDF said tanks struck seven Hamas positions. Hadashot TV news said both the Air Force and tanks opened fire on targets in the Strip.
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According to the IDF, a group of 20 minors were rioting along the border fence, which was used as a decoy by the sniper to fire upon soldiers responding to the unrest.
Some Hebrew media reports cited initial army assessments that the sniper was not acting on behalf of Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza. Military sources told Army Radio late Wednesday, however, that Hamas had encouraged the demonstration by young Gazans at the fence, drawing an IDF patrol, and then its snipers opened fire on the soldiers. The sources said the same sequence played out on Friday, when IDF soldier Aviv Levi was shot dead by a Gaza sniper at the border.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes. It named them as 28-year-old Ahmad al-Basous, 29-year-old Abada Farawna and 27-year-old Muhammed al-Ara’er.
Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, later acknowledged the three as its members.
“The size of this Israeli escalation against Gaza and the deliberate targeting of resistance fighters reflects the occupation’s intentions to kill,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum wrote on his Twitter account.
“The resistance will not give up on its duty to defend our people, protect it and respond to this aggression,” he added.
The military wing of Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terror group, vowed the “the crime the occupation perpetrated today will not pass without punishment.”
Saraya al-Quds also said “the resistance will safeguard the blood of our people,” in remarks carried by the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today.