Four soldiers were wounded Saturday when an IDF force patrolling near Karni crossing was hit by terrorist fire. The military jeep sustained a direct, through-and-through hit by an anti-tank missile.
Two soldiers sustained serious injuries to the lower extremities and were airlifted to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. Two others were rushed to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in moderate condition, suffering from shrapnel wounds.
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The fire came from a location east of the Gaza Strip neighborhoods of Zeitun and Sajaiya. IDF forces scrambled to the scene and a heavy fire exchange followed, with the IDF using tanks and machine-guns to neutralize the threat.
Gaza sources said that IAF helicopters were flying over the Strip's southern and eastern areas, as well.
The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's (PFLP) military wing – claimed responsibility for the attack; but the IDF said that it was more likely the work of Islamic Jihad militents.
Later Saturday, the Al-Arabiya network reported that the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades claimed the attack.
Gaza medical sources reported of four fatalities and 25 casualties as a result of the IDF's shelling. The causalities were taken to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Ayman al-Sahbani, a doctor at Shifa, said all of the casualties were civilians and the children were among the wounded.
IDF soldiers at the scene (Photo: Roee Idan)
Hamas security forces reportedly cleared all posts in the vicinity of the scene, fearing an imminent Israeli strike.
The IDF confirmed the incident's details: "An anti-tank missile was fired at an IDF force on routine patrol near the security fence in northern Gaza Strip. Four soldiers were wounded as a result. IDF forces returned fire.
"The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers and will continue to fight any element which employs terror against the State of Israel.
"The Hamas terror group is responsible for any such acts," the statement said.
Injured solider en route to hospital (Photo: AP)
The GOC Southern Command has launched an inquiry into the incident. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz called for a security assessment of the sector.
The IDF ordered the residents of the Gaza vicinity communities to remain within close proximity to shelters.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak commented on the incident, saying: "The IDF reacted with force to the event and an additional response will be determined in the following days. We will not abide any escalation in the southern sector."
Following the attack, the Defense Ministry ordered the temporary closing of the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The crossing is the main checkpoint through which goods are delivered to Gaza Strip.
"The IDF will not risk the lives of the crossing's employees, or the troops stationed there, despite the great importance of ensuring goods and humanitarian aid are delivered to Gaza," a defense source said.
Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter commented on the escalation in the south, saying that Israel "must reestablish its military deterrence in Gaza."
Ilana Curiel, Neri Brenner and Carmit Reuven contributed to this report
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