Five soldiers were killed late Monday when four Gaza militants entered Israel via a tunnel and fired an anti-tank missile at a pillbox — the fourth time armed men from Gaza have emerged from a tunnel to attack nearby Israeli communities.
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A senior officer said one of the militants appeared to have been killed in return fire from a watchtower, while the three others escaped back through the tunnel.
The soldiers killed were Sgt. Daniel Kedmi, 18, of Tzofim; Sgt. Barkai Yishai Shor, 21, of Jerusalem; Sgt. Sagi Erez, 19, of Kiryat Ata; Sgt. Dor Dery, 18, of Jerusalem; and Sgt. Nadav Raimond, 19, of Shadmot Dvora.
Fifty-three Israeli soldiers and three civilians have now been killed since Operation Protective Edge began around three weeks ago.
The tunnel opening Monday evening was 150 meters inside Israel south of the Karni crossing; an Israeli aircraft in the air did not manage to fire at the militants, who left behind Kalashnikovs and two rocket-propelled grenades.
Troops then combed area communities for hours for fear that more armed men might still be in Israel. At the start of the incident, defense officials told area residents to stay in their homes; the army also blocked Route 232, the main access road to the area.
The army is now probing whether the tunnel was known to the troops in that sector. A senior officer said soldiers had already searched for a tunnel but did not find one.
There have been three similar incidents. On July 17, armed men who emerged from a tunnel were killed in an air strike.
Two days later, a major and a sergeant were killed when Hamas operatives infiltrated into Israel via a tunnel near Kibbutz Be’eri. The Palestinians entered an abandoned army outpost, set up an ambush and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at two jeeps carrying Armored Corps officers.
On July 21, around 10 armed men emerged from a tunnel near Kibbutz Nir Am wearing Israeli army uniforms. The Palestinians fired an anti-tank shell, killing four Israeli soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel and a first lieutenant.