JERUSALEM – Israel on Tuesday made its first military incursion deep into the Gaza Strip since withdrawing from the territory nine months ago, sending special forces backed by a helicopter gunship to ambush a squad of rocket-firing Palestinian militants.
Four Palestinians were killed and about six others wounded in an intense pre-dawn exchange of fire that lasted more than one hour and occurred nearly two miles inside Gaza.
At least three of those killed were members of a cell from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, the Israeli army and Palestinian medical officials said. A fourth fatality was a member of the Palestinian security forces, according to Palestinian security officials.
The confrontation marked a change in tactics for the Israeli military, which has been frustrated in recent months by an inability to quell the firing of rockets in the direction of Israeli cities and towns by Palestinian militants.
The raid drew an angry and alarmed reaction from Palestinian officials, including moderate-minded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinians fear that Israel will, by increments, reoccupy Gaza, which was relinquished last August by the Israelis’ then-prime minister, Ariel Sharon.