Chanting “revenge” and flanked by masked gunmen in camouflage, thousands of mourners in the Gaza Strip yesterday buried seven Palestinian militants killed in an Israeli incursion as the ruling Hamas group launched a feverish security sweep across the territory.
Hamas claimed Israeli undercover forces entered the territory in a civilian vehicle on Sunday night and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen. The clashes killed an Israeli lieutenant colonel, prompting Israeli airstrikes and a salvo of rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel.
The cross-border fighting came just days after Israel and Hamas reached indirect understandings, backed by Qatar and Egypt, to allow cash and fuel into Gaza. The understandings are meant to be part of a broader effort to alleviate deteriorating conditions in the impoverished territory after 11 years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
It was not clear if the burst of violence, which appeared to have subsided yesterday, would derail those arrangements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris, returning to Israel yesterday for consultations with top security officials.
In Gaza, Hamas authorities beefed up security, deploying checkpoints all over the territory. The group also cancelled a weekly beach protest in north-western Gaza along the border with Israel.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh led a funeral for four militants as masked gunmen in uniforms carried the coffins, wrapped in the flag of Hamas’s armed wing, and mourners chanted “revenge”.
The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said Israeli undercover forces drove three kilometres into south-eastern Gaza and shot and killed Nour el-Deen Baraka, a mid-level commander.
Qassam members found the car and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said. The empty vehicle was reduced to a charred chassis after aircraft fired several missiles.
The Israeli military said there had been an exchange of fire during an operation in Gaza, with troops withdrawing from the territory with the help of aircraft. Militants then launched 17 rockets toward Israeli communities.