GAZA CITY: An Israeli raid to destroy a Gaza tunnel ignited clashes in which tank fire killed four Hamas commanders and five Israeli soldiers were wounded, both sides said yesterday.
In one of the deadliest flareups in Gaza since an October 2012 conflict, warplanes carried out an air strike after Palestinian militants lobbed between one and three mortar shells into southern Israel. Neither attack caused any further casualties.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas are under increased pressure from both Israel and Egypt, which has destroyed hundreds of similar tunnels in the south of the besieged Palestinian enclave used to bring in fuel and other goods.
The closures by Egypt forced authorities to shut down Gaza’s sole electricity plant early yesterday, causing widespread power outages, Hamas said.
The Israeli military said the fighting erupted on Thursday night when an explosive device went off as troops were clearing a tunnel from Gaza into Israel, allegedly to be used as a springboard for militant attacks.
Five soldiers were wounded, the army said. In response, “the soldiers opened fire and directly hit a terrorist,” and Israeli warplanes struck “an additional terror tunnel located in the southern Gaza Strip,” it said.
Palestinian officials said four local commanders of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, were killed by tank fire. Rabieh Barikeh was killed instantly and Khaled Abu Bakr died of his wounds overnight, according to the officials, who said the commanders were carrying out surveillance along the frontier east of the town of Khan Yunis when they came under fire.
The bodies of Mohammed Al Qassas and Mohammed Daoud were discovered later. At Barikeh’s funeral yesterday, some 2,000 Hamas supporters holding up the movement’s flag and shouting “revenge against Israel.”
During the exchange, Hamas TV said, three mortar shells were fired from Gaza into southern Israel.