A Palestinian was killed and an Israeli soldier seriously wounded Wednesday in one of the worst clashes along the Gaza border since last summer's war ended four months ago.
According to Israel’s military, a Palestinian sniper opened fire on an Israeli patrol, seriously wounding a soldier. Troops fired back, and tanks and aircraft targeted Hamas positions in the area, the military said.
Israeli media reported the soldiers were escorting workers along the border fence around Kisufim, an Israeli area east of the Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis.
Palestinian media identified the dead man as Taysir Smeiri, a 33-year-old commander of Hamas’ reconnaissance unit for the southern part of the Gaza Strip. At least two more Palestinians were reportedly wounded.
Following the airstrike, Hamas reportedly began clearing military bases and headquarters in Gaza. On the Israeli side, farmers were instructed to stay away from fields adjacent to the border and several roads around neighboring communities were closed off.
A spokesman for Hamas said the Israeli force attempted to cross the fence into Gaza; Israel’s army maintains the force was inside Israeli territory. Hamas official Ismail Radwan called the incident a “dangerous escalation” and said Israel was “playing with fire” and would bear responsibility for the results.
Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner called the sniper attack a “lethal violation” of the relative calm and a “blatant breach” of Israel’s sovereignty.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement after the incident declaring: "Our policy is clear -- a firm response against every attempt to disrupt the quiet in the south."
Wednesday’s violence is the latest in a series of incidents that have underscored the fragility of a cease-fire in August that ended intense fighting between Israel and Hamas. The clash signaled Hamas’ impatience over the slow pace of rebuilding after the war and the stalled Cairo talks that Hamas had expected to ease deprivation in the enclave.
Deterrence alone is not a long-term solution to Gaza for Israel, said Giora Eiland, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and retired army general. In a radio interview, Eiland said reconstruction of Gaza is in his nation's interest, and that “Israel can afford to be pretty generous” on this issue -- including the possibly of opening a sea port for the isolated coastal strip.
Eiland expressed regret that Israel didn’t push for more substantial talks in Cairo. If such discussions were taking place, he said, “Hamas would have less interest in provocations such as today’s.”
Sobelman is a special correspondent.