Gaza City (AFP)- Israeli air strikes killed two Gaza militants on Monday as they clashed with troops who crossed the border on the eve of a landmark visit by the Qatari emir, medical sources said.
The flareup provoked threats of revenge from the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement, and a pledge from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there would be no immunity for those firing on the Jewish state.
Both strikes took place around the northern town of Beit Hanun where militants were firing mortar shells at an Israeli tank and several military vehicles which had crossed the border into Gaza territory, witnesses and security sources said.
The first strike hit north of Beit Hanun, critically wounding four Qassam Brigades militants, one of whom later died of his injuries, medics and the militant group said.
As the clashes continued, Israel launched a second air strike east of Beit Hanun, killing a militant from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and critically wounding another man, the same sources said.
The Qassam Brigades confirmed that the first strike had killed one of its militants and critically wounded another three, naming the dead man as Abderahman Abu Jalaleh, 25, and describing him as a local commander.
The second strike killed a PRC militant whom the group named as Yasser Al-Tarabin. The identity of the injured man was not immediately clear.
The Israeli military said the both strikes had targeted “a rocket launching squad.”
“The squad was targeted in response to mortar shell fire at a routine IDF (army) patrol in the area, near the Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am,” a statement said of the first strike. An identical statement was issued following the second.
The flareup comes on the eve of a high-profile visit by the emir of Qatar to the Gaza Strip, the first such trip by an Arab head of state since Hamas took over the territory in 2007.
The military refused to say whether troops were operating on the Gaza side of the frontier, saying only “they were near the security fence on a routine patrol.”
Hamas militants usually observe a de facto truce on rocket fire targeting Israel, but the rare show of force appeared to be a direct response to the incursion.
“The Zionist enemy continues its crimes and arrogance against our land and people… because of its desire to blow up the situation,” the Qassam Brigades said in a statement.
“The enemy will not be able to tie our hands and his crime will not go unanswered.”
Netanyahu also issued a warning of his own.
“There is Hamas, which is supported by Iran, which is firing rockets at us and who will fire again. We will not allow anyone to arm himself, to fire rockets at us and to think he can enjoy immunity,” he said in remarks distributed by his office.
“They will not escape punishment. We attacked them before (they fire on Israel), we attacked them after, and we will prevent them from arming themselves,” he said.
“We will not let them escape without punishment and they know that is what we are doing.”