Senior Militant Among Six Palestinians Killed in Gaza

(Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris after efforts to reach a long-term truce with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers were rattled by a deadly clash in which a high-ranking member of Hamas’s military wing and an Israeli lieutenant-colonel were killed.

In all, seven Palestinians were killed after Israeli forces launched an operation inside Gaza late Sunday that, according to Israeli media, was an intelligence-gathering mission that went awry after the soldiers were identified. Palestinian militants fired 17 rockets and mortars at southern Israel after the operation, the Israeli military said Monday, reporting no injuries from the launches.

The raid and the high-level casualties threatened to undermine efforts led by Egypt and the United Nations to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza and ease the dire humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade for more than a decade. Just last week, Israel let a Qatari plane land with bundles of cash for the Hamas-run enclave, and on Sunday, Netanyahu told reporters in Paris he’d rather try to reach a long-term truce with Hamas than go to war again.

Cut Short

The Israeli leader flew home a day early from France, where he had gone for ceremonies marking the centenary of the end of World War I.

“Due to security incidents in the south, the prime minister has decided to cut short his trip to Paris and will return to Israel tonight,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that an Israeli force entered three kilometers (1.8 miles) into Gaza and killed Noor Baraka, 37, described as a regional commander of Hamas’s armed wing. A firefight broke out and, in ensuing Israeli airstrikes, six more Palestinians were killed, according to Hamas and Gaza’s Interior Ministry.

The Israeli army said an “exchange of fire” had taken place during operational activity in Gaza, without providing more details. It emphasized that no Israeli soldiers had been captured and that the operation “was not intended to kill or abduct terrorists, but to strengthen Israeli security.”

Israeli rail service connecting two cities near the Gaza border, Ashkelon and Sderot, was suspended, and schools were closed in Israeli communities near the territory.

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