VIDEO - Givati Brigade's Corporal Matan Ovdati (19) from Moshav Patsih in the western Negev, Corporal Menahesh Albinath (20) from the Negev town of Kuseife and Corporal David Papian (21) from Tel Aviv were killed Wednesday morning during intense clashes with a Palestinian terror cell near the security fence in central Gaza.
Three other soldiers sustained light to moderate injuries in exchanges of fire that erupted in the area. Corporal Ovdati was promoted to the rank of sergeant posthumously.
Hamas' armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the assault on the IDF troops.
Video courtesy of infolive.tv
At around 6 am soldiers manning an IDF observation post identified a terorr cell which reportedly consisted of six Palestinian gunmen approaching the security fence near Kibbutz Be'eri in an apparent attempt to infiltrate Israel. A force from Givati's Tzabar Battalion that was called to the scene entered 500 meters deep into Palestinian territory.
The terror cell managed to flee to a nearby vantage point, and two gunmen were sent to set off explosives near the Israeli troops. Two of the soldiers who were hit died of their wounds a short time later, and another was pronounced dead some two hours later at Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center. Two of the wounded soldiers were being treated at Soroka, while another soldier was evacuated to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
IDF soldier after incident in Gaza (Photo: AP)
Following the initial attack, the IDF soldiers attempted to return fire, as did additional forces that were called to the scene. Army officials said they estimate that the terrorists escaped unharmed. An initial investigation into the incident found that the soldiers acted in accordance with IDF procedures.
Dr. Gadi Shaked, head of the trauma ward at Soroka, said that three of the injured soldiers arrived at the hospital via helicopter at approximately 8 am. According to him, one of them arrived in serious condition with bullet wounds to his limbs and died on the way to the operating room.
Dr. Shaked said another soldier was evacuated with moderate gun wounds to his stomach, and a third arrived at the medical center with light injuries to his arm.
According to Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' military wing, eight members of the organization split into two cells ambushed the Israeli soldiers.
"When the force advanced it ran into our cell, which launched mortars and opened fire at the soldiers," he said. "The IDF force began retreating but was then attacked by the second Hamas cell, which opened fire with automatic weapons."
Obeida said the operation was part of a defense tactic the group refers to as "Field of Death", adding that the incident was a mere prelude to the violence that will erupt in Gaza "if the siege continues".
The Salah al-Din Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, said its members also took part in the attack.
"We hope the Israelis got the message," said Abu-Mujahad, a spokesman for the terror group.
Despite the terror groups' claims, the IDF estimates that the operation was not planned as an ambush and that the gunmen initially planned to plant bombs along the fence.
Palestinian sources reported that during the incident gunmen fired missiles at an Israeli vehicle that entered Gaza. IDF tanks arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, they said.
An army official said "we are thwarting attempts to carry out attacks along the border fence on a daily basis, and in most cases this involves complex, fierce fighting with high risk for the soldiers. We'll investigate the incident and draw the necessary conclusions."
We must carry out these activities inside Gaza and along the fence to prevent the terrorists from reaching Israeli communities. The soldiers know that they are the only buffer between the terror organizations and the citizens of Israel."
A senior member of Islamic Jihad's armed wing was killed and a number of other Palestinians were wounded late Tuesday in four separate Israel Air Force strikes in Gaza. During the IDF's activity in the Strip a soldier sustained moderate wounds after being shot by a Palestinian sniper in Gaza. He was taken to hospital by helicopter.
Ali Waked contributed to the report