An IDF soldier was killed near Kissufim by sniper fire from the Gaza Strip on Friday afternoon, leading to a retaliatory strike by the IDF that killed at least three Hamas fighters.
The IDF attacked terror targets across the Gaza Strip with both tank and aircraft fire. So far, 15 targets were bombed at the Hamas Zaytun battalion headquarters. The headquarters were destroyed, while arms depots, training facilities, observation posts, the battalion situation room, the battalion commander's office and other infrastructures were hit.
At least three Palestinians from Hamas's military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, were reportedly killed in the IDF retaliatory action. At least 120 Palestinians were reported wounded.
At around 8:30pm, a Code Red rocket alert siren was sounded in Shaar HaNegev Regional Council and Sdot Negev Regional Council. Three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, with two of them intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and the third fell in open area.
Several explosive devices were thrown at IDF force from the Gaza Strip following the fire exchange. None of the soldiers were hurt.
An IDF official described the fire exchange as the gravest incident since the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, putting the blame squarely on Hamas.
"Hamas will be held accountable for this incident as well as the series of the terror activities it has been executing over the past months," the IDF said in a statement. "Hamas has chosen to escalate the security situation and will bear the responsibility for its actions."
In the wake of the incident, the political and security brass, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, convened in the Kirya Headquarters in Tel Aviv for a situation assessment on Friday evening.
The IDF's Home Front Command instructed Israelis living in communities near the Gaza border to remain within a 15 second distance from a bomb shelter or a safe room as well as to avoid mass gatherings. The army also closed the Zikim beach for the weekend as a precaution.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived to the area shortly before the incident.
Hamas said that "The mass participation in the 'March of Return' campaign and the lifting of the Gaza siege, alongside the steadfast persistence of the Palestinian public despite the attacks, terror and the occupation's escalation, is the proof that the Palestinian people are not breaking and are insisting on their rights and on lifting the siege, no matter what the death toll may be."
Khalil al-Hayya, a top Hamas leader, said "the protests will remain, flaming and existing, and its tools will multiply and diversify, including kites, until our goals are achieved."
For the first time, an incendiary balloon of the kind used in Gaza was found in the garden of southeast Jerusalem home close to the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. Police sappers dealt with the device.
The weekly protests led by Gaza's Hamas rulers against Israel are meant in part to draw attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after the terror organization assumed control of Gaza in 2007.
Lieberman: Hamas leaving us no choice but to launch wide offensive
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Friday morning that the Hamas terror group is leaving Israel with no choice but to launch a “wide scale and painful military campaign,” as incendiary kites and balloons continue to fall from Gaza on Israeli border communities.
“We are making efforts to weigh matters and be responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcefully leading us to a situation in which we have no choice, to a situation in which we will have to embark on a wide scale and painful military operation that is not intended for show—a wide scale and painful military operation,” he emphatically repeat
Lieberman’s comments come against a backdrop of American efforts to kick-start international aid initiatives to alleviate the economic paralysis gripping the Gaza Strip on condition that Hamas renounce terror.
"We really are conducting ourselves responsibly and with restraint, even though the real problem with that is the erosion of deterrence, a change in the equation and, of course, the feeling of security which is no less important than security itself and having to come to terms with a reality in which at the end of last week the residents in the Gaza region were forced to run 20 times to bomb shelters," Lieberman explained.
Last week an IDF major was moderately wounded from a grenade thrown at him by Palestinian rioters on the Gaza border on Friday, while a Palestinian teen was killed by IDF fire east of Gaza City.
In response, the force opened fire towards the terrorists who threw the grenade in northern Gaza—in the area between Gaza City's Saja’iyya neighborhood and the old Karni crossing near Kibbutz Nahal Oz—and a hit was identified.