Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two seriously and two others moderately, when a device exploded near the troops at the fence bordering the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The wounded soldiers were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva with burns and shrapnel injuries.
The IDF said it struck six Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the explosion in a "large-scale attack." These included a Hamas attack tunnel reaching from Gaza into Israeli territory and two military compounds. The attacks came after a rocket fired from Gaza fell near a house in an Israeli community. Rocket sirens sounded in several Israeli communities near the border with the Strip.
According to earlier Palestinian reports, Israeli warplanes responded by striking various targets in and around Gaza City. Shortly later, Palestinian reports said Israel had carried out an additional strike on a Hamas compound, while a third report spoke of shots fired toward an agricultural area in the Strip's south. Hamas said it "holds Israel responsible for any escalation in the Gaza Strip."
Earlier, The IDF said it attacked an observation post in the southern Gaza Strip with tank fire. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the incident is "very serious" and "could undermine stability in the region." Manelis added that the IDF holds Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip.
According to the IDF, the incident began when soldiers from the Golani Brigade and the Engineering Corps approached the border fence after noticing a Palestinian flag hung in the vicinity. After the soldiers approached the flag, the device exploded. Two tunnels originating in the Strip and extending into Israeli territory were found near the site.
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The military believes that the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, an umbrella group made up of militants from different armed factions, hung the flag there during Friday's demonstration in order to attract the soldiers. The Popular Resistance Committee described the explosion as "a heroic act in response to the enemy's infiltration into the Gaza Strip."
The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that over 20 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli soldiers during the demonstration on Friday, one of them seriously. The previous Friday, the ministry said that 57 people were wounded in clashes throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, one of them with suffering grave injuries after being shot with live fire near the Gaza border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Saturday's events, describing them as "severe." The premier vowed that Israel "will respond appropriately." IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot met with the head of the IDF's Southern Command and other senior officials to assess the current situation.
Last month, the Israeli air force destroyed an attack tunnel extending from the coastal enclase into Israeli and Egyptian territory – the fourth such tunnel destroyed in recent months.
Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned the cabinet last week that the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza could draw Hamas and Israel into a fresh confrontation. Eisenkot called on the government to take substantial steps to head off a collapse of the situation in the Strip. His warning echoed previous statements made by other Israeli security officials.
A few days later, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman contradicted Eisenkot's assessment, saying there was no humanitarian crisis in the Strip. "The economic state is complicated and must be dealt with, but there's no humanitarian crisis," Lieberman told members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party.
In January, Israel presented a plan for the humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza, along with a request to the international community to fund it, to an emergency conference in Brussels of countries and organizations providing financial assistance to the Palestinians. The plan, which would cost an estimated billion dollars, would feature Israeli assistance in building infrastructure related to desalination, electricity and natural gas and the upgrading of the industrial zone at the Erez border crossing into Gaza.