GAZA (Reuters) - An Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip killed five gunmen and a ground raid killed a militant on Tuesday, Palestinian medics said, in the first armed clash in the strip since a ceasefire took hold there in June.
An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed the air strike, saying the missile was aimed at militants who had fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces operating in another part of the Gaza Strip. Gaza medics said another militant was killed by a tank shell.
In the earlier raid, Israeli troops killed a gunman when the army moved into Gaza to destroy a tunnel built by militants intending to capture Israeli soldiers.
All the dead were members of the Hamas Islamist group which controls the coastal enclave.
The raid was a rare Israeli military operation since the start of a ceasefire was declared on June 19 and which has largely held between Israel and Hamas.
“Security forces uncovered a tunnel intended for immediate use to abduct Israeli soldiers into the Gaza Strip,” a military spokeswoman said.
In June 2006 Gaza gunmen abducted Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, when they infiltrated through a tunnel under the border fence into an Israel army base bordering on the southern Gaza Strip. Shalit is still being held at a secret location.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the raid proved that Israel was not interested in continuing the ceasefire although he stopped short of saying that Hamas would abandon it.
“The aggression is a major violation of the agreement. If such a raids are repeated, fighting will not be limited only to the area east of the central Gaza Strip,” Abu Zuhri said.
A statement from Hamas’s armed wing said ”the current calm agreement will not prevent us from defending our people against Zionist (Israeli) arrogance. It warned of a harsh response.
The Israeli army spokeswoman said there was no intention to end the ceasefire: “We emphasize that this is a pinpoint operation to thwart an immediate threat and there is no intention to bring about the end of the ceasefire.”
The Hamas gunman who was killed was identified as Mazen Seada, a senior commander in central Gaza. Hamas said he was killed while firing mortar bombs at the Israeli troops.
Hamas said gunmen spotted Israeli troops approaching and fired at them before an unmanned aerial drone launched a rocket into the area. Hamas gunmen then began to fire mortar bombs.
The rocket fired by an Israeli aircraft into Gaza was the first since the ceasefire between Israel and Islamist Hamas,
which controls the coastal enclave, came into effect on June 19. It has largely held since then.
The air strike which followed was aimed at militants who launched mortar bombs at the troops operating some distance away. The spokeswoman said that troops would leave Gaza once they had completed their task to destroy the tunnel.
Gaza militants have occasionally launched makeshift rockets into southern Israel in violation of the ceasefire, prompting Israel to temporarily closed its borders with Gaza in response.
Hamas had agreed to halt rocket attacks in return for the gradual lifting of a blockade Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip two years ago.
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan