Palestinian militants killed one Israeli soldier and seriously wounded another in a cross-border bombing Tuesday morning, prompting an Israeli counterattack that killed a Palestinian farmer and wounded a Hamas fighter.
The clash, near the central Gaza border crossing of Kissufim, is the most serious threat so far to the separate cease-fires declared by Israel and the militant group Hamas that have largely held since Jan. 18 after a three-week Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army reported that an “explosive device” targeted a patrol on the Israeli side of the border fence about 9 a.m. Tuesday. One noncommissioned officer was killed and a second officer seriously wounded, an army spokeswoman said. A third soldier also suffered injuries.
Israel responded immediately, as jeeps, backed by tank and helicopter fire, staged a brief incursion. Troops had withdrawn by early evening, residents said. Gunfire was heard throughout the day along the border near Kissufim, east of the town of Deir al Balah.
A Palestinian farmer was killed by gunfire, according to local medical sources. Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli missile targeted a known militant fighter riding a motorcycle near the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis. Hussein Shameya, 24, was seriously injured and two bystanders were wounded by shrapnel, medical sources said.
Area residents say Shameya was active in Hamas’ military wing, though it was unclear whether he had participated in the border bombing.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the morning attack. Israeli officials maintain that they hold Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for the actions of all Palestinian resistance factions.
“I don’t care who fired,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said.
Israeli officials have promised harsh and immediate retaliation for any attacks on their soldiers or rocket launches against southern Israeli cities.
Special correspondents Ahmed Burai in Deir al Balah, Yasser Ahmed in Khan Yunis and Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.