TEL AVIV – In what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deemed a “serious” incident, four IDF soldiers were wounded when a bomb was detonated by their jeep during a patrol along the Gaza Strip border on Saturday.
Two of the soldiers are in serious condition, the army said, and were evacuated by helicopter to Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.
The incident was the most serious to take place on the southern border since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“The incident on the Gaza border was a very serious one. We will respond in kind. I am sending to the wounded my wishes for a speedy recovery,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said from a security conference in Munich, Germany.
President Reuven Rivlin said Israel will not give in to terror.
“We will not be quiet in the face of any type of terror against our soldiers who are protecting the lives of the citizens of Israel,” he said.
The IDF called it a “severe terrorist attack” with the potential to stir up clashes.
“This was a severe terrorist attack that has the potential to destabilize the region,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
The explosion occurred around 4 p.m., east of Khan Yunis and the southern Gaza Strip, when a patrol stopped along the border to remove a flag that had been placed at the fence a day earlier during a protest. The explosive device was planted below the flag on the Palestinian side of the fence.
In response to the incident, the IDF carried out large-scale strikes Saturday night and into Sunday against ten “terror targets” belonging to Hamas, including an attack tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was dug toward Israeli territory, the army said. Eight targets were destroyed by air force strikes and two by cross-border tank fire, the IDF said. Two military compounds belonging to the terror group were hit, one of which included a weapons manufacturing site.
Earlier Saturday, eight more sites were hit by air strikes, including one belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Late on Saturday night, rocket warning sirens sounded in several Gaza border communities, but the IDF later said they were false alarms.
Manelis said that that even though he didn’t believe the explosive device was planted by either Hamas or PIJ, Israel holds Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, most recently organizing increasingly violent protests along the border.
“These spontaneous demonstrations are also used for terrorist activity, and these events will be met with an uncompromising response,” Manelis warned.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said, “The IDF views with great severity the attempt by Hamas to carry out seemingly spontaneous demonstrations intended to turn the fence into a confrontation zone and carry out acts of terrorism that would destabilize the Gaza Strip.”
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said the attack showed the terrorists’ “cowardice.”
Separately on Sunday, an IDF tank opened fire on a group of Palestinians approaching the border in a “suspicious manner,” the army said, but no one was injured.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad Din al-Qassam Brigades, responded with the claim that it had deployed anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli jets.
Hamas will not allow Israel to “impose any new equation on the ground or export its internal crises and the corruption cases of its leaders by escalating the aggression on our people,” Abd al-Latif Kanou, a spokesman for the terror group said.