The Israeli military said it fired at a Hamas facility in northern Gaza Wednesday morning in response to fire from the Strip aimed at Israeli security forces.
The tank fire killed two 23-year-old members of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades' al-Nukhba elite unit and wounded six others, reports in Gaza said. The al-Qassam Brigades is the military wing of Hamas. The two killed are Abd al-Hafez al-Silawi and Ahmad Murjan.
According to the reports, the Israeli attack hit a graduation ceremony of al-Qassam fighters at Hamas' Askelan base. Senior Hamas figures were reportedly in attendance. The Gaza Health Ministry confirmed the two deaths.
Later Tuesday, Palestinian media outlets reported that another Israeli strike took place in Gaza in the afternoon, targeting a group of Palestinians at Israel's border with the Strip.
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According to Palestinian reports, none were injured.
Hamas' armed wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, released a statement in which it said it viewed gravely "the Israeli strikes."
"Israeli claims [that Palestinians fired at troops] are false and Israel ought to carry the full responsibility for this incident and its repercussions."
The deadly incident comes as Egypt brokers a cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel.
Following the first strike, Hamas said that Israel bears full responsibility for escalating the situation, and added that "the resistance forces" cannot reconcile themselves to a draft agreement that Hamas said Israel is seeking to dictate, and in addition, Israel cannot strike at its fighters and not pay the price.
Two main proposals are under discussion – one presented by Egypt and the other by United Nations special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov. The Egyptian proposal gives high priority to internal Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; to exchanges of prisoners and of bodies of soldiers, with Israel; and to an agreement for a long-term cease-fire, to last from five to seven years, with the first step being a cease-fire within days of signing the accord.
Both Fatah and Hamas have visited Cairo over the past few weeks to discuss the deal, which also promotes reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Official sources in Ramallah are concerned that Israel and Egypt are advancing a deal to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip without involvement by the Palestinian Authority.
A Palestinian official said that the proposal being promoted in Jerusalem and in Cairo makes the United Nations responsible for promoting the projects while the Egyptians would be involved in the evaluation and supervision over the projects. The funding, he said, would come mainly from the Gulf States, including Qatar, with additional funding from the European Union and the United States. A reported $650 million would be invested in projects, without direct involvement by Hamas or the PA.
Hamas has not yet officially responded to the proposal, but senior figures in the organization are sending a positive message. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has presented 14 objections that could derail the whole process.
In Israel on Sunday, a political official said that no wide-ranging agreement with Hamas would come about without the release of two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of two soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. In response, defense officials have recommended that Israel take steps to ease the economic situation in the Gaza Strip as part of an interim arrangement with Hamas before there is progress on negotiations on the release of Israeli soldiers' remains and Israeli civilians held by Hamas, contrary to senior politicians' position.
According to senior Israeli army officers, humanitarian projects can be advanced in Gaza that would defer any possible military confrontation between Israel and Hamas at least until the end of next year, when an Israel project to install an underground barrier along the Gaza border is completed. Senior defense officials have recently said in various settings that Israel should "do everything" to avoid being the party in the negotiations that would bring about the collapse of an agreement.