Hours after Palestinian gunmen attacked the Sufa crossing in southern Gaza Sunday morning, kidnapping Corporal Gilad Shalit and killing First Lieutenant Hanan Barak and First Sergeant Pavel Slocker, the Gaza Division launched a preliminary investigation into the events.
The probe found that the opening of an underground tunnel which the terrorists used to infiltrate Israel was deep into Israeli territory, so that while soldiers monitored the Gaza border, the gunmen attacked them from behind.
The investigation found that in recent weeks the IDF dug numerous holes in the area with heavy engineering equipment in search of underground tunnels, apparently guided by an intelligence alert. A senior officer in the Gaza Division said the excavations reached a distance of half a kilometer from the tunnel dug by the Palestinian attackers, but failed to uncover it. It was not yet clear where the origin point of tunnel was located within Gaza, but the IDF assessed that it was 800 meters (0.5 miles) long, and ended 300 meters (about 0.2 miles) into Israeli territory.
Attacked from behind
“When the terrorists came out of the tunnel dressed in olive-colored garb, they were in Israel, behind the IDF instruments which face the Gaza Strip,” the officer said. “They attacked them from the back, and after a short battle of about ten minutes, they returned towards Gaza. They fired at the fence or detonated a device there to make a hole in the fence, and thus managed to flee back into Palestinian territory. Owing to the complexity of the incident, several minutes passed before the army understood that one of the soldiers was missing, and only when such a report was made did they begin the regulation response of firing into the air and entering Gaza in pursuit of the attackers – but it was too late. The forces entering Gaza at the first stage reached a distance of about one kilometer into the Strip, but turned back when they understood there was no use.”
As far as is known, the bodies of the tank commander, First Lieutenant Hanan Barak, and the tank loader, First Sergeant Pavel Slocker, were found outside the tank, which may lead to the assessment that the two managed to exit the tank before they were killed. The tank driver also sustained head wounds, and the gunner, Corporal Gilad Shalit, was missing.
“We still don’t know if he was taken out of the tank, or if he exited the tank, wounded, to fight the attackers,” the senior officer said. He noted that there was a connection between the IDF’s operation in Rafah Saturday, during which two Hamas operatives were arrested, and Sunday’s events. He refused to provide further details.
Commander: Preparing for response
Commander of the Gaza Division, General Aviv Kochavi, said during a briefing at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom that a broad range of responses was available. “We are preparing for the decision to be made by the General Staff and the political echelons,” Kochavi said. “We will be able to act within any dimension demanded of us.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday morning that, “The data in our hands does not leave any doubt that Hamas is involved in the incident. The terrorist organizations will pay a heavy price, and we will act against them powerfully. We will fight anyone involved in terrorism, as we fight the terror organizations. The Palestinian Authority is infected with terrorism from head to toe, and we must eliminate the terrorism used against us by all means available. Whoever chooses to step up (terrorism) needs to take into account the painful price of the response. We are determined to do everything to return the kidnapped soldier home.”