A navy gunship crew spotted two swimmers trying to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip early Thursday morning. After warning calls and then warning fire, sailors opened fire at the men, wounding at least one of them, IDF officers said.
Palestinian sources reported that one of the arms smugglers was taken to a hospital in Rafah, where his condition was reported as stable. The condition of the second man remains unclear.
Before dawn, a navy force patrolling near the border spotted two individuals swimming in a forbidden zone. The two were swimming sluggishly, apparently weighed down by sacks of weapons. The navy alerted Egyptian border policemen, who called on the two men to stop. When the smugglers ignored their calls and continued to swim into the waters off the Gaza Strip, Israeli sailors shot into the air and then directed their fire at one of the swimmers who was approximately 100 meters from the coast.
The second swimmer, who was closer to the beach, was not fired upon due to concerns innocent civilians could be hit inadvertently, said Capt. Yoram Lex, commander of the Ashdod naval base.
The smugglers abandoned their sacks and made their way to the coast, where they were whisked away by Palestinian paramedics.
The area has been the site of past smuggling attempts, navy officers said.
Lex said the navy is making great efforts to thwart terror groups from smuggling into Gaza via the sea, where it is easier for them to smuggle larger quantities of arms and explosives. In May, navy ships caught terrorists attempting to smuggle half a ton of TNT into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Since disengagement from Gaza in August, the navy has thwarted four attempts to smuggle explosives and weapons into the Strip, as well as an attempt to detonate a bomb near a warship.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, soldiers arrested nine Palestinian fugitive in predawn raids Thursday.
Two Tanzim operatives were arrested in Nablus, and two others were caught in Bethlehem. North of Ramallah, security forces arrested two Hamas operatives, and near Bethlehem, soldiers arrested an Islamic Jihad fugitive. Another terror suspect was caught near Hebron, the army said.
Late Thursday, Palestinians fired on IDF special forces in Ramallah. The troops returned fire, hitting one of the gunmen. One Palestinian was killed in the exchange, according to Palestinian sources. No soldiers were injured.