TEL AVIV – Israeli students in schools near the border with the Gaza Strip were kept inside protected areas on Tuesday amid fears of retaliation over the army’s destruction of a terror tunnel killing seven militants a day earlier.
Israeli farmers were also being instructed to keep away from the fields in the area surrounding the Strip, The Times of Israel reported citing local municipal directives issued Monday night.
The tunnel, which was found to have extended from within the Gaza Strip and into Israeli territory, was blown up, killing seven Palestinians and injuring 13 more.
Four of the dead were Islamic Jihad members, including two senior terrorist commanders, Arafat Abu Murshad, Islamic Jihad’s central Gaza commander and his deputy Hassan Abu Hassanein. The other three others were named as Ahmad Khalil Abu Armana, 25, Omar Nasar al-Fallit, 27, and Jihad Abdullah al-Samiri, 32, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
“The explosion took place inside Israeli territory. The majority of the dead were activists that entered the tunnel after it was exploded and died in the Gaza Strip, and not as a result of the explosion,” said an IDF spokesperson Avichay Adraee.
The Eshkol Regional Council said schoolchildren would need to stay inside during recess. Anticipating potential retaliatory rocket fire from the Strip, Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defense system to the area and declared a closed military zone near the border.
“We are not interested in an escalation but we are ready for all scenarios” IDF spokesperson Adraee said on Monday.
According to media reports, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad demanded a coordinated retaliation but Hamas restrained its fellow terror group, preferring instead to protect the recently signed reconciliation deal with erstwhile rival Fatah.
Hamas said that two of its own members, Musbah Shabir, 30 and Mujahid Mohammed Marwan Algha, were also killed during an operation to rescue the injured.
“This is a massacre,” said senior Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batash. “All our options are open. We will take all considerations into account, but we will not allow the enemy to set the rules of engagement.”
“The Zionist terror government must realize that we will not hesitate to protect our people and our land,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawood Shehab said on Twitter, adding that the terror group “is considering all of its options,” including the “option of responding to this aggression.”