Three Gazans Killed After Crossing Into Israel Were Likely Planning Attack

Israeli army says suspects launched explosive devices at a military force several hundred meters inside Israeli territory, while coverage in Gaza portrays incident as indiscriminate killing, raising risk of rocket fire

Israeli soldiers near Kibbutz Kissufim, Israel, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

 The three Gazans who were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers after crossing into Israel on Tuesday were likely planning an attack but were not part of an organized group or cell, the army believes. 

The three Palestinians, aged 16 to 18, were killed after crossing 400 meters into Israel from the Gaza Strip, an army spokesman said. No Israeli casualties were reported.

Footage released by the Israeli army showing three suspects hurling an explosive device at soldiers.IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The death of the teenagers has been described by Palestinian news outlets, as well as Gazans’ social media accounts, as an act of indiscriminate killing carried out by Israel, which could increase the chance of rocket fire at Israeli communities in revenge.

According to the Israel Defense Forces’ statement, the three suspects breached the border fence in central Gaza, near Kibbutz Kissufim, and launched explosive devices at a military force that arrived at the scene.

According to the initial assessment of the IDF’s Gaza Division, the Palestinians began running the moment they broke through the fence. Forces sent to the site identified the three hiding in a thicket. When one of the IDF Jeeps approached the Palestinians, they threw two objects at it, believed to be explosives or improvised hand grenades. Forces responded with gunfire.

The IDF believes that the infiltration was not initiated by an organized group or cell.  

The fact that the three used improvised weapons indicates this was probably a premeditated attack, rather than an attempt to enter to work or in the hopes of being caught and arrested by Israeli security forces. 

In recent years, Gazan youth have been trying to enter Israel in order to get caught, on the assumption that even conditions in Israeli prison would be better than those in Gaza. In some instances, teenagers have carried knives to ensure being sentenced to years in Israeli prison. However, using firearms or explosives, even if improvised, suggests an intention to carry out attacks. 

Military commanders told Haaretz that most infiltration attempts carried out by Palestinians from Gaza were not aimed at committing an attack, but added that when firearms are used, forces must swiftly respond to prevent a possible attack.  

The three Palestinians who were killed were identified as Muhammad Hani Abu Mandil, Salem Ana’ami and Mahmoud Said, all from central Gaza and ranging in age from 16 to 18. The incident received widespread coverage in Gaza on Wednesday, with Israel being accused of deliberately killing them. 

That could prompt a response by one of the Palestinian factions in the Strip seeking to overshadow the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, where some 40 world leaders have gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  

At this point, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett intends to keep the bodies of the three dead Palestinians in Israel. On Thursday, the families of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies are held by Hamas in Gaza, called on Israel to keep the bodies of the Palestinians as bargaining chips in the negotiations to return the soldiers and Israeli civilians being held in the Strip.

Meanwhile, despite efforts to reach an arrangement between Hamas and Israel, tension has been rising in Gaza amid the difficulties in supplying fuel to the Strip, on which many residents depend to heat their homes during the winter. 

Tensions with Egypt and a disagreement with Israel led to a steep decrease in the quantity of fuel imported into Gaza over the past few weeks. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, the deputy of the Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Amadi entered Gaza to give impoverished families money to buy food.

The incident near Kissufim and the tension around providing the Strip with gas attest to the fact that Israeli hopes of reaching a long-term arrangement with Hamas rest on shaky ground, and might easily deteriorate into a new round of violence.       

On Saturday, Hamas militants told Haaretz that they are preparing to increase the firing of incendiary balloons at Israel this week, in protest of the lack of progress on the ground – this, despite talks between Israel and Hamas and attempts to advance long-term understandings.

Also Saturday, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that in the next few days Palestinian factions intend to renew operations of units responsible for causing nighttime disturbances along the border.