3 Palestinians reported dead in Gaza air strike

Air force bombs smuggling tunnel in response to mortar shelling which wounded IDF soldier.

Gaza smuggling tunnel rubble 248.88 (photo credit: )
Gaza smuggling tunnel rubble 248.88
(photo credit: )
IAF jets bombed an arms-smuggling tunnel in southern Gaza early Tuesday morning, resulting in three Palestinian deaths, according to reports from Gaza. The casualties were in the tunnel when it was bombed, the reports said. Seven people were wounded. The IDF Spokesman's Office said "accurate strikes" against the tunnel had been identified during the overnight raid, adding that it was a response to Monday's Palestinian mortar fire on southern Israel, which lightly wounded an IDF soldier. On Tuesday evening, IDF troops shot and injured a Palestinian suspect after he was caught trying to cross the Gaza border fence. Soldiers shot at the man after he failed to heed calls to stop, and shots were fired in the air. The suspect was evacuated for medical treatment in Israel, and then transferred for interrogation. During Monday's clash, which took place on the boundary between northern Gaza and Israel near the Mediterranean coast, an IDF patrol identified a number of suspicious figures approaching the border fence. "The soldiers told the suspects to leave, but were ignored. They fired in the air, but the figures continued to approach the fence," an army spokeswoman said. "In compliance with the rules of engagement, soldiers opened fire at the suspects, striking two of them," she added. One wounded man remained on the ground while the others escaped. The soldiers crossed the fence to evacuate the man to Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, but he died of his wounds minutes later. Palestinian mortars then fired at the patrol, leaving one soldier with light shrapnel wounds. He was taken to Barzilai Security experts said it was unclear who was behind the incident, but that Hamas was currently seeking to keep things calm. "This is nothing new. Attempts have been made to plant explosives on the border in this area routinely," said Yoram Schweitzer, director of the Program on Terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. "If such attempts result in casualties, the incidents could escalate," he added. "At this time, Hamas is interested in calm. Salafi jihadis could be behind this. They may have been given an outlet [by Hamas] after what happened earlier this month," Schweitzer said, referring to the August 14 gun battles between Hamas and the Salafi Jund Ansar Allah in Rafah, which claimed 28 lives from both sides. The fighting erupted after a Jund Ansar cleric used a Friday sermon to declare Gaza an Islamic emirate, an intermediate stage in the process of forming a global Islamic caliphate. Hamas saw the statement as a direct challenge to its rule in Gaza. "The Salafis could also be trying to get Hamas to end its tahadiyeh [calm period]. After the last incident with Hamas, they have the motivation to harm Hamas, and they may want Israel to respond [to mortar fire] in order to damage Hamas," Schweitzer said. Even if that were the case, he added, Tuesday's bombing of the tunnel was the correct course of action, since Israel "must mark out the rules of the game, and make clear what the red lines are, rather than hoping that luck will prevent casualties." Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the Herzliya-based International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said, "Hamas is still interested in quiet because it is continuing to smuggle weapons into Gaza, and because there appears to be progress on a deal to release Gilad Schalit." "Hamas is not interested in this kind of incident," he added. "This does not look like Hamas." Karmon called attention to Hamas's accusations that its main rival, Fatah, was arming Salafi groups like Jund Ansar Allah. "Many of the Islamist groups in Gaza are made up of former Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad members," he said. Members of the notorious al-Qaida-affiliated Darmush clan in Gaza "are ex-Fatah," Karmon noted. At the same time, Karmon was skeptical over allegations that Fatah was behind the actions of Salafi groups in Gaza. Meanwhile, Fatah-affiliated Web sites posted a disturbing video this week showing Hamas gunmen executing captive Jund Ansar Allah members during the mid-August clash in Rafah. Karmon said the decision to release the video was in line with recent decisions made by Fatah during its recent conference in Bethlehem, and cited contingency plans Fatah had drawn up in the event dialogue with Hamas failed. One scenario calls for "reinforcing media activity in the Arab and Islamic street, to expose the truth about Hamas's policy and deeds."