An IDF soldier and officer were killed in clashes with Palestinians near Kissufim on Friday, it was cleared for publication after their families were notified. Two other soldiers were injured in the incident – one sustained moderate-serious wounds, and the other was lightly injured.
The soldiers killed were Major Eliraz Peretz, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade's 12th Battalion and resident of the settlement of Eli, and Staff-Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky of Rishon Lezion.
The incident took place within the Strip's territory. An IDF force entered Strip when it identified Palestinians planting explosive devices near the border fence. An explosion took place and heavy clashes ensued. Two Palestinian gunmen where killed in the incident.
Some two hours later, two more Palestinians were killed in an exchange of fire in the area. They were identified by an IDF force near the border fence who opened fire.
The clashes took place around 4pm. A Golani force entered the Palestinian territory, near the border fence by Kissufim crossing, to comb the area. Suspicious figures were spotted in the area earlier Friday, and several hours later the military decided to examine whether explosives were planted.
As the soldiers arrived at the border fence, they noticed the Palestinians planting the devices several dozens of meters from the fence. The soldiers opened fire at the Palestinians, while crossing the fence into Palestinians territory.
During the chase, one of the devices exploded, and gunshots were simultaneously fired at the force. The two soldiers were killed during the clashes. Two others were injured and evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, after suffering from shrapnel injuries. One of the soldiers sustained moderate-serious injures from shrapnel in his chest, the other soldier was lightly injured from shrapnel in his leg.
Initially, it was believed that the force's entrance to the Strip was what caused the incident. However, military estimates that the incident was actually a Palestinian ambush continue to strengthen.
Southern Command Chief Major-General Yoav Galant said, "The soldiers advanced in a proper operational manner and when the terrorists were seen moving westward, tanks that were stationed undercover opened fire. One of the terrorists approached the forces point blank and opened fire. In the clashes, one of the fighters was apparently hit by the grenade that was on his person, and as a result the explosion that killed him and injured two other soldiers took place. Another fighter was killed in another fire exchange in the area. In total, two fighters were killed."
IDF soldiers on Gaza border Friday (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Galant added, "The terrorists were hit, two were killed. In another incident which took place two hours later north of there two other terrorists trying to pant bombs at the fence were killed. These are events that take place every day. The soldiers' activity is meant to protect the civilians of the nearby communities. Operations are carried out on both sides of the fence, by foot, with tanks, in covert and open activity.
"Unfortunately, we paid a very hefty price this Shabbat eve and on the even of the holiday. Shabbat Shalom, happy holiday. We support the families and express our deep sorrow over the incident. We will continue to work to enable all of the State of Israel's citizens to celebrate the Seder fittingly."
Hamas' military wing, which claimed responsibility for the attack, officially blamed Israel. "An Israeli army force raided 500 metres (yards) into Palestinian territory, and was confronted by our gunmen," said Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas armed wing. "This was our work, but was carried out for defense."
However, a Hamas operative later told Ynet that the movement's military wing, in cooperation with an Ahmad Jibril Popular Front General Command force, lured the Israel force into the Palestinian territory. According to the operative, the group waited for the force to enter and detonated the explosives. The source said Hamas is slated to issue an official statement on the matter later Friday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to the families of the "soldiers who have fallen today while defending the State" and wished the soldiers who were injured in the clashes a speedy recovery.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said, "This is a difficult day for the people of Israel and for the Israel Defense Force. Israel's fixed and determined policy with regards to attacks against its citizens and its soldiers – is known."
Ali Waked, Ilana Curiel and Roni Sofer contributed to this report