(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman vowed on Sunday to eliminate the people responsible for an explosive device that injured four IDF soldiers at the Gaza border on Saturday afternoon.
“Until we eliminate them the score remains unsettled,” Liberman told Ynet on Sunday morning. “It will take two days, a week, or two weeks. We’ll eliminate anyone behind the attack’s execution.”
Liberman said that the Popular Resistance Committees organization, a group comprised of several terrorist groups, was behind the attack. The organization called the attack a “heroic operation” and said the planned explosion “east of Khan Yunis came in the context of the Palestinian response to the incursions [into the Gaza Strip] of the enemy.”
The group warned against any Israeli military response by saying, “Any Israeli idiocy toward the Gaza Strip would be counterproductive...
The resistance factions will have the right to respond to deter the enemy from pursuing its crimes and aggression.”
The attack in the southern Gaza Strip took place around 4 p.m. when a patrol from the Golani Brigade and members of a combat engineering unit arrived to investigate a suspicious flag that was spotted on the Palestinian side of the fence following protests along the border on Friday.
While examining the flag, an improvised explosive device attached to the flag exploded, seriously wounding two soldiers and moderately wounding two others.
The IDF called the event “a severe terrorist attack that has the potential to destabilize the region,” and retaliated by carrying out 18 air strikes against Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip overnight.
“We hit 18 terror targets, 18 quality targets, almost all of which belong to Hamas,” Liberman said. “This is perhaps the most significant and widespread strike we carried out since Operation Protective Edge.
Hamas is the ruler, and we consider Hamas to be responsible for everything that is done in the Gaza Strip and from the Gaza Strip.”
Several Hamas military compounds that held training camps and infrastructure for the manufacturing of weapons were among the targets, according to a statement by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Two observation posts were also hit, as well as a tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was being dug toward Israeli territory.
Two 17-year-olds – Salim Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha – died in the shelling and two others were injured, one seriously, after Israeli artillery bombed a location in the Nahda neighborhood of Rafah, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said in a statement.
According to the Hamas-linked al-Rai, the bodies of Sabah and Abu Sheikha were found several hours after the army fired artillery shells in the Rafah area, where both had lived.
An IDF spokeswoman said the Israeli security forces fired artillery shells at “suspicious Palestinians who were approaching the border fence in southern Gaza.”
Following the air strikes, Hamas’s military wing, Izzadin Kassam Brigades, claimed on Twitter that it used anti-aircraft missiles against the Israeli jets.
Although tensions have increased along the Gaza border in recent months, the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another round of conflict.
Nonetheless, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot warned a cabinet meeting that a war with Hamas could take place this year if the Gaza Strip’s dire economic and humanitarian situation is not ameliorated.
“I hope we aren’t witnessing an escalation, but this incident is not over, as the terrorists still have not been liquidated,” Liberman said in an interview with Army Radio on Sunday. “You need to understand, we are carrying out activities 24/7 against the terrorists from Hamas and Hezbollah.
They are trying to split us from within and deter us from operating.”
“In spite of everything, we will continue operating both in the North and the South,” he added.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.