The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Monday after a botched Israeli undercover operation in the Gaza Strip led to fighting that killed a Hamas commander, six other Palestinian terrorists and left an Israeli colonel dead.
Following the clashes, Palestinian terrorists launched at least 17 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel, one of which caused light damage to a chicken coop in the southern Eshkol region, but no injuries were reported, baruch Hashem.
There were no reports of injuries or damage in Israel, but the military said a lieutenant-colonel, identified only as M., had been killed in the raid and another officer wounded.
Hamas said the Israeli actions dealt a blow to Egyptian, Qatari and U.N. efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between the Palestinian group and Israel and ease an Israeli blockade that has deepened economic hardship in Gaza.
But neither side appeared eager to pursue broader conflict.
Hamas received $15 million in Qatari-donated cash via Israel on Friday to pay for civil servants’ salaries and fuel to address Gaza’s energy crisis.
No new rocket launches were reported on Monday morning.
On Monday, Israeli schools in communities near the Gaza border were ordered shut, and local farmers were forbidden to work in their fields.
Residents of southern Israel were initially instructed to remain close to bomb shelters or other protected spaces, but this directive was later rescinded on Monday morning.
On Sunday night, an IDF special forces unit entered the Gaza Strip on what the IDF Spokesman said was an intelligence-gathering mission.
Most details of the special forces operation in Gaza were not released for publication by order of the IDF censor.
At some point during the raid, the troops were discovered by Hamas members and a firefight broke out, according to Palestinian accounts.
The IDF team called in aerial support, which provided cover fire to the soldiers as they made their way out of the coastal enclave.
The aforementioned office in the special forces unit was killed in the clash. A second officer was injured and taken to Be’er Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center in moderate, stable condition.
He regained full consciousness on Monday morning, following a number of surgeries throughout the night, the hospital said.
Hamas said that during Sunday’s fighting, Israeli forces in a passing vehicle opened fire on a group of its armed men, killing one of its local commanders, Nour Baraka.
A pursuit ensued and witnesses said Israeli aircraft fired more than 40 missiles into the area. Palestinian officials said that in addition to Baraka, five other Hamas men and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees were killed.
Baraka was reportedly heavily involved in Hamas’s terror tunnel program and also served as the commander of a Khan Younis regional battalion.
In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, the IDF spokesman said the special forces had not been dispatched to assassinate Hamas commanders, a tactic that led to wider conflict in the past and which has largely been abandoned.
The spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio that covert missions were mounted frequently, comments that suggested the Israeli force may have been gathering intelligence.
“During the operation, it found itself in a very complex situation, faced by enemy forces. The [Israeli] force, including Lieutenant-Colonel M., kept its cool, returned fire and evacuated itself together with the [help of the] air force back into Israel,” Manelis said.
The Qassam Brigades said it engaged the Israeli commandos, setting off an intense firefight with Israeli troops, including reported intense drone strikes throughout the southern Gaza Strip.
The special forces squad was forced to retreat to the Israeli side of the fence under the cover of the aerial bombardment, Hamas’s military wing said.
On Monday morning, Palestinian media shared photos of the vehicle allegedly used by the Israeli special forces unit inside Gaza. The car had been bombed, apparently by Israel, in order to destroy classified or otherwise useful documents and equipment.
There were also photos allegedly showing Israeli technological equipment that Palestinian media said was left behind by IDF soldiers when they made their escape back into Israeli territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris, where he attended World War I commemorations with other world leaders. He returned home early on Monday.