A sniper attack from Gaza that wounded an Israeli soldier on Wednesday triggered Israeli tank and air strikes that killed a Hamas militant, the most serious clash between Israel and the Islamist group since a 50-day war last summer.
The Gaza-Israeli border has been mostly quiet since a cease-fire ended the fighting on Aug. 26, but talks on a long-term truce have stalled, raising concerns about a slide back to hostilities.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said the soldier was part of an army squad guarding workmen repairing a fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. She said Israeli forces responded to the shooting with tank shelling and an airstrike, targeting “Hamas positions.”
Hamas said Tayseer al-Samari, a commander in its reconnaissance unit, was killed by the Israeli fire.
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The Israeli military said that the injured soldier was seriously wounded in the chest and evacuated to a hospital. Israeli farmers were ordered to leave agricultural areas near the border.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior army spokesman, said that the shooting at the soldiers, who, according to the military, were stationed on the Israeli side of the Gaza fence, was “a blatant breach of Israel’s sovereignty.”
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called the Israeli strikes “a dangerous escalation,” adding that “the occupation is playing with fire” and “will bear full responsibility for the consequences.” The flareup followed an exchange last week in which a rocket landed in Israel, provoking an Israeli airstrike, the first since the summer war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel would respond “forcefully every time there is an attempt to violate the calm” reached after the conflict in July and August.
The United Nations’ deputy envoy to the Middle East, James Rawley, issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” about the latest exchange of fire and called on both sides to “refrain from escalating tensions” and maintain the cease-fire.