The Izz al-Din el-Qassam Brigades, Hamas'
armed wing, claimed in a leaflet it had distributed that its members fired for the first time anti-aircraft guns at Israel Air Force (IAF) helicopters flying over central Gaza, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported Friday.
According to the report, the helicopters were providing aerial support for ground troops operating in the al-Marazi and al-Bureij refugee camps.
"Our fighters opened intense fire from more than one weapon at 11:30 am and forced the surprised IAF helicopters to backtrack," the leaflet read.
IAF officials said they had no report of such an incident, but did acknowledge the possibility that Palestinian terror groups were in possession of anti-aircraft weaponry and that the helicopters may have simply not noticed the gunfire.
In addition, Fatah's military wing, the al-Aqsa Brigades, claimed responsibility for the detonation of an explosive device near an IDF jeep on Thursday in the same area.
The army said that in recent months the smuggling of arms from Egypt has significantly increased, adding that anti-aircraft guns of some kind were also brought into the Strip.
"This situation forces us to act with added caution and level-headedness," an IDF official said, "we are aware of the possibility that the terror organizations possess weapons that they have not had previously, and we are preparing accordingly."
On Thursday an Israeli soldier was severely wounded during activity against Qassam rocket launchers in central Gaza from an RPG missile fired by Islamic Jihad gunmen; three other troops were mildly wounded in the incident.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report