Local council warns Israelis to stay near bomb shelters

After troops come under fire, IDF strikes Hamas posts in Gaza, killing 4

Palestinian sniper shoots at troops during border riot, IDF tanks and aircraft respond with strikes on Hamas positions across Gaza; the dead are members of Hamas military wing

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising after an Israeli strike in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
A picture taken on July 20, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising after an Israeli strike in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a group of Israeli soldiers during a riot along the southern Gaza security fence on Friday evening, prompting a widespread Israeli response with IDF tanks and aircraft hitting eight Hamas posts across the Strip, killing three Hamas military wing members, the army and Palestinian officials said.

“Shots were fired at IDF troops from the Gaza Strip during the violent riots along the security fence. In response, IDF aircraft and tanks targeted eight military targets throughout the Gaza Strip belonging to the Hamas terror group,” the army said in a statement.The IDF later revealed that a soldier had been killed in the incident.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, at least four Palestinians were killed in the exchanges.

The ministry first said two died during an initial exchange east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Strip. The third man was reportedly killed near the southern city of Rafah. Later it said a fourth person died after he was shot in the chest.

The Hamas military wing said three were its members and identified them as Shaaban Abu Khatir, 26, Muhammed Abu Farhana, 31, and Mahmoud Qishta, 23.

The fourth person was identified as 27-year-old Muhammed Badwan.

During this time, clashes broke out along the fence, with Palestinians launching small mortar shells and throwing explosive devices at Israeli troops.

The health ministry said 120 Palestinians were wounded in clashes throughout the day.

There were no immediate reports of Israeli injuries.

Though Israeli troops have engaged in gun battles with Palestinians during border riots before, the shots at the soldiers on Friday appeared to have been fired by a sniper, something that has not happened in previous clashes.

Immediately after the incident Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman held a consultation with top IDF generals in Tel Aviv.

Residents of some southern Israeli communities in the Sdot Negev region were instructed by the local government to stay close to bomb shelters in light of the clash, apparently out of concern that terrorist groups in the Strip may begin launching mortar shells and rockets at the area.

The reported clashes came amid a period of peak tensions between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group.

Thursday saw a small-scale exchange of fire between the two sides, after a member of Hamas’s military wing was killed in an Israeli airstrike against a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel. In response, a number of mortar shells and rockets were fired at the Eshkol region, causing no damage or injury.

Hamas’s military wing threatened retaliation for the death of its fighter, calling the airstrike, which killed one person and wounded three others, a “heinous crime.”

The fighter, Abdel Karim Ismail Radwan, was buried on Friday in a large military-style funeral.

Hamas fighters and Palestinian men carry the body of Abdel Karim Ismail Radwan, who was reportedly killed in an Israeli airstrike, during his military funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Last weekend saw an extensive exchange between Hamas and the Israeli military, which was sparked by clashes along the border.

Last Friday, an IDF officer was moderately injured in a grenade attack by Gazans during a riot along the security fence, and a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager was also killed by IDF gunfire.

In response to the attack that wounded the officer, Israeli jets conducted an air raid on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip later that night. Hamas, in turn, launched a number of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel. In the 24 hours that followed, Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Palestinian enclave fired some 200 projectiles at Israel, injuring four people in Sderot and damaging buildings throughout the area, and the IDF retaliated by hitting dozens of Hamas positions in the Strip, killing two teenagers.

Hamas agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Saturday night, but Israel was not involved in the talks and the agreement did not include a cessation of the airborne arson attacks or riots along the border — key sticking points for Israel, which is demanding an end to all violence and vandalism from the coastal enclave.

On Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Israel was prepared to launch a “large and painful military operation” if the violence along the border did not stop, including the incendiary kites and balloons.

“We are trying to be considerate and responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcibly leading us to a situation of not having a choice, to a situation in which we will need to carry out a large and painful military operation — not something that’s just for show, but a large and painful military operation,” he said.

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