"The decision by the IDF force to enter Gaza and chase after the terrorists was correct; this is what is expected of fighters in such an incident," a senior army official told Ynet late Friday, just a few hours after 32-year-old Major Eliraz Peretz and 21-year-old Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky were killed in an exchange of fire with Palestinian terrorists near the Kissufim crossing.
However, an initial investigation into the incident revealed that some tactical mistakes were made by the IDF force after it entered Palestinian territory. According to the army, the terrorists who were planting the explosive devices near the Gaza-Israel border fence operated in a manner that was similar to dozens of other terror cells that had approached the fence in the past with the aim of planting bombs. Dozens of such incidents this past year ended with direct hits on the terror cells and no IDF casualties.
The army has rejected Hamas' claims that the terrorists had ambushed the soldiers. The soldiers, the army says, were hit during exchanges of fire and from the explosion of a grenade carried by Major Peretz.
IDF jeep near Khan Younis on Friday (Photo: AFP)
The investigation further revealed that the IDF force's decision to cross into Gaza and engage the enemy was the correct response in light of the fact that the two terrorists were positioned only dozens of meters from the border fence.
Major Peretz, deputy commander of the 12th Battalion and the highest-ranking officer at the scene, decided on his own to lead his men into Gaza, the investigation revealed.
It is estimated that the army will retaliate with a wide-scale assault on Hamas targets in Gaza. The Palestinians reported late Friday night that Israeli tanks had entered the area in which the exchanges of fire had taken place, but this operation was apparently limited in scale.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources reported overnight Saturday that 33-year-old Hitham Abu Arafat, who critically wounded from IDF artillery fire during Friday's incident in which the two soldiers were killed, had died of his wounds. Two Palestinian gunmen were also killed in the exchanges of fire.