GAZA (MCT) — A gunfight and an Israeli airstrike left four Palestinian militants dead on the Gaza Strip early Friday, according to Palestinian reports.
In addition, five Israeli soldiers were injured in an explosion along the border in the operation that preceded the airstrikes, military sources in Israel said.
According to a statement from the army, military engineers were trying to collapse a segment of a "terror tunnel" exposed last month leading from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel when Palestinian militants detonated a bomb targeting the Israeli forces, injuring five soldiers.
Israeli forces opened fire and directly hit one militant, according to an army statement. Palestinian sources identified one fatality as Rabieh Barikeh, 23, a member of the military wing of Hamas.
After the incident, Israeli aircraft targeted another tunnel in the southern part of the strip. Palestinian sources reported another three members of Hamas killed in the strike in Khan Younis.
Tweets from Israel's military accused Hamas of violating understandings reached after the 2012 eight-day military campaign on Gaza that Israel called Operation Pillar of Defense. The military also held Hamas responsible for all activities targeting Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Last month, Israeli forces exposed an impressive tunnel, a mile-long passage dug around 18 meters underground and leading from Gaza into Israel, emerging by the kibbutz of Ein Hashlosha. Complete with electricity and transport infrastructure and layered with around 25,000 concrete slabs, the tunnel took over a year to prepare for use in a future cross-border attack.
A less massive underground passage served Palestinian militants in 2006 to attack an Israeli army post and abduct Gilad Shalit to the Gaza Strip, where he was held for over five years until being released in an exchange with Hamas in 2011 in return for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
After the discovery, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the tunnel proves Hamas is still preparing for a confrontation with Israel. Recently, Israel's army chief of staff Benny Gantz warned the next round of combat could start with the detonation of such a tunnel.
• Rushdi Abu Alouf is a special correspondent.
(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services