IDF troops have completed their operation in the Gaza Strip, and are currently preparing to leave the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory. Two soldiers were moderately wounded and four others sustained light injuries from a mortar shell, they were evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.
For the first time since the ceasefire took effect in June, IDF forces operated deep in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night in a bid to collapse a tunnel located 250 meters (273 yards) from the border – and which terror groups intended to use for kidnapping Israeli soldiers.
Palestinian sources reported that six gunmen were killed in the clashes that ensued during the operation, and that several others, including a female bystander were injured.
The force arrived at a structure near the al-Bureij refugee camp which the tunnel had been dug in adjacent to. Palestinian gunmen were alerted to the soldiers' presence and when they arrived at the scene a fierce gunbattle ensued. Shortly afterwards a loud explosion occurred, which toppled the structure. T
The army said the intensity of the blast was due to the large amount of explosives stored in the building, adding that the building was probably booby-trapped ahead of time, in order to prevent the force from entering it. No casualties were reported among IDF troops.
'IDF committed maintaining ceasefire'
Six mortar shells were fired at the troops during the operation, all landing in open areas near the Kissufim border crossing. No injuries or damage were reported.
The Air Force launched two separate strikes on cells launching mortar shells, killing at least five Hamas gunmen.
Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades' spokesman, Abu Obeid, said Tuesday that Hamas "will fight off any Israeli operation," adding the organization will retaliate on the operation. Security officers at the Gaza vicinity communities were subsequently warned of possible rocket attacks on the western Negev region.
IDF sources said that the operation was "an innately defensive one and not an offensive one; but we have rescue teams on standby, ready for any possible scenario."
A senior military source called the incident "a ticking tunnel," adding that "this is a pinpoint operation. Once we are done, the forces will leave Gaza."
Palestinian sources told Ynet that IDF forces had recently arrested a Palestinian who was hurt while attempting to carry out a suicide bombing in the same area and that they assumed the man told the security forces about the tunnel dug in Gaza during his interrogation.
That information is believed to be the catalyst for the operation.
Sources within the defense establishment noted that several meetings with senior security officials were held prior to the operation due to the sensitivity of the matter.
"The IDF is committed to maintaining the ceasefire and is acting accordingly," Ynet was told. "In this case, we had a credible threat indicating soldiers might be kidnapped and we had no choice but to act in order to thwart it."
As for the chances of the operation effectively ending the ceasefire, the sources said that while that was taken into consideration, the defense establishment believed the chances of that happening were slim but that risking a kidnapping attempt "was not an option."
Ali Waked, Shmulik Hadad, Ilana Curiel and Reuters contributed to this report