Mon. 9:12 a.m.: Thousands in Gaza demand revenge after deadly Israeli raid

Israeli soldiers stand near the southern Israel Gaza border Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed back to Israel on Monday, hours after an Israeli army officer and seven Palestinians, including a local Hamas commander, were killed after an incursion by Israeli special forces into the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Chanting “revenge” and flanked by masked gunmen in camouflage, thousands of mourners in the Gaza Strip today buried seven Palestinian militants killed in an Israeli incursion as the ruling Hamas group launched a feverish security sweep across the territory.

Hamas said Israeli undercover forces entered the territory in a civilian vehicle late Sunday and exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen. The clashes killed an Israeli lieutenant colonel and prompted Israeli airstrikes and a salvo of rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel.

The cross-border fighting came just days after Israel and Hamas reached indirect understandings, backed by Qatar and Egypt, to allow cash and fuel into Gaza. The understandings are meant to be part of a broader effort to alleviate deteriorating conditions in the impoverished territory after 11 years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

It was not clear if the burst of violence, which appeared to have subsided early today, would derail those arrangements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris because of the flare-up, and he returned to Israel today for consultations with top security officials.

In Gaza, Hamas authorities beefed up security measures after the incident, deploying checkpoints all over the territory. The group also canceled a weekly beach protest in northwestern Gaza along the border with Israel. The organizers said today’s protest was postponed “due to the ongoing security situation.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh led a funeral for four militants as masked gunmen in uniforms carried the coffins, wrapped in the flag of Hamas’ armed wing, and mourners chanted “revenge.”

The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said that in Sunday’s incursion, Israeli undercover forces drove about 2 miles into southeastern Gaza and shot and killed Nour el-Deen Baraka, a mid-level commander in charge of a sensitive area in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. Qassam members discovered the car and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said.

The empty vehicle apparently used by the Israeli force was reduced to a charred chassis after aircraft fired several missiles at it, leaving a gaping crater in the ground.

The Israeli military said there had been an exchange of fire during an operation in Gaza, with troops withdrawing from the territory with the help of aircraft. It said that militants then launched 17 rockets from Gaza toward Israeli communities, where school and train service was cancelled in response, and that it had reinforced troops and its aerial defense system along the border following the flare-up.

The military provided few details about the reason for the raid. The Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said a “special force” carried out “a very meaningful operation to Israel’s security,” without elaborating.

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