Cleared for publication: An IDF soldier - First Sergeant Major Ehud Efrati, 34, of Beit Yehoshua - was killed Sunday night and two troops were lightly injured in exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen in the southern Gaza Strip, near the Sufa crossing connecting between Israel and Gaza.
One Hamas member was killed in the incident and another was injured.
An initial inquiry revealed that during the operation the soldiers encountered a group of gunmen and exchanges of fire erupted. Efrati, the father of three small children, was seriously injured and evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he died of his wounds.
IDF reserve forces operated inside the Palestinian territory, about 1 kilometer from the security fence. The operation was aimed at distancing terror cells from the fence and uncovering terror infrastructures. According to reports, the exchanges of fire continued Monday morning.
This is the IDF's third casualty in the Gaza Strip this year.
Large forces operated also in the northern Strip town of Beit Hanoun, one of the main Qassam launching areas. A number of anti-tank missiles were fired at the forces. An IDF soldier was seriously injured.
The Israel Air Force attacked a group of gunmen spotted in the area. according to the Palestinians, two civilians were killed in the operation, one of them identified as Ahmed Zanin, a Beit Hanoun resident.
Sources at the Southern Command recently reported that the gunmen have increased their resistance as a result of Hamas becoming stronger.
"This is manifested in trained and more equipped terror cells," a military source said. "If we don’t go in and uncover a tunnel, we will one day find it in Israel, and that will be too late."
On Sunday, the IDF closed the Sufa crossing as part of the sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government.
In the West Bank, an IDF soldier was moderately injured during an operation at the Ein Beit-Ilma refugee camp near the city of Nablus.
The soldier was wounded by gunshots fired at the force and was evacuated to the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
Three wanted Palestinian were arrested in the raid and taken into questioning by security forces.
The IDF also operated in the Ramallah and Bethlehem areas Sunday night, arresting a total of 20 Palestinians across the West Bank.
Ali Waked and Efrat Weiss contributed to this report