2 killed in IDF attack on Hamas position near Beit Lahiya
Hamas fighters open fire at Israeli soldiers on border in northern part of Gaza Strip, prompting retaliatory strike by the IDF, which killed two members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade; No Israeli troops hurt; Hamas vows Israel will 'pay the price.'
The IDF attacked with tank fire a Hamas position near Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing two members of the terror group's military wing.
The Hamas fighters opened fire at IDF soldiers, prompting retaliatory tank fire. The Gaza Ministry of Health provided a different version, reporting a drone strike. No Israeli troops were hurt in the incident.
Footage of the incident released by the IDF shows two men in a watchtower, one appears to open fire as puffs of smoke burst in front of him. The video then cuts to separate footage of a shell hitting the post and an explosion.
"The IDF will act against any offensive intention and any attempt to attack our forces, and considers the Hamas terror organization responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip and from it," the IDF said in a statement.
The IDF estimates at least one of the two terrorists who opened fire at the troops is a Hamas sniper.
The 9th Battalion of the 401st Brigade shelled the manned Hamas position with a Merkava Mark IV tank mere minutes after the troops came under fire. Unlike previous incidents, the IDF returned fired immediately, without waiting for Hamas personnel to evacuate the position.
The incident did not affect the construction of Israel's underground obstacle on the Gaza border, which continued near the area of the incident.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades identified the killed fighters as Ahmed Mourjan and Abdel Hafez al-Silawi, both 23 years old.
In a statement, the Qassam Brigades said it "mourns the two Mujahedeen" and that they had been "martyred in a Zionist bombardment."
Hamas vowed to avenge its fighters, blaming Israel for the incident.
"We view Israel's attack of the al-Qassam Brigades' outpost, which caused the death of two fighters, very gravely," Hamas said in a statement. "The resistance will not accept a policy of attacking its positions and fighters without Israel paying the price."
Security coordinators in Israeli communities near the Gaza border have asked residents to stay close to shelters due to fears Hamas would retaliate by firing rockets at Israel.
Meanwhile, a fire broke out in the Kissufim forest as a result of an incendiary kite from Gaza. KKL personnel quickly arrived at the scene and gained control of the blaze.
Earlier Tuesday, firefighters—with help from the IDF, KKL the Nature and Parks Authority and security coordinators in the Gaza border communities—put out four other fires started by incendiary kites and balloons.
Israel has lost tracts of farmland and forest to fires started by kites and helium balloons laden with incendiary material which have been flown over the border by Palestinians in Gaza.
IAF aircraft have attacked several incendiary balloon cells in recent days, with the latest strike taking place Monday.
The incident takes place while a delegation of very senior Hamas officials, led by Hamas Deputy Chairman Saleh al-Arouri, is in the Gaza strip to discuss a UN-proposed ceasefire agreement with Israel.
Hamas's political leadership met with the organization's military wing on Monday to discuss their battle readiness after the Israeli Security Cabinet concluded a meeting Sunday with the statement "the IDF is prepared for any scenario."
During the meeting, the Hamas leadership was briefed about the joint situation room shared by the different Gaza Palestinian factions' military wings.
The Israeli Cabinet met on Sunday to discuss a proposed ceasefire agreement with Hamas mediated by the UN and Egypt. During the meeting, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot briefed the ministers on the situation in the strip. While the ministers discussed the plan, they made no decisions on the matter and were not asked to approve it.
The plan, mediated by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian intelligence, is the first stage in the effort to reach a broader agreement between Hamas and Israel.
But there was not much optimism among the ministers. The chances of reaching a broader, long-term agreement with Hamas were very low, since there are too many obstacles on the way and it is doubtful the gaps can be bridged.
Hamas demands the release of high value prisoners in return for advancing negotiations for the release of civilians and the return of IDF soldiers' remains. Israel, meanwhile, objects to releasing high value prisoners, and conditions any broad agreement in a resolution to the issue of MIAs and POWs.
AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.