Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinian “commandos” at sea off Gaza on Monday, medical sources and witnesses said, as the military said it had foiled a “terror attack”.
Palestinian witnesses said they saw Israeli helicopters and naval forces firing on a vessel off the coast of Nusseirat, south of Gaza City, at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT).
Two hours later, four bodies in diving suits were pulled from the water and taken to hospital, medical sources and witnesses said, describing the dead as “commandos”. Searches were under way for another two people who were believed to have escaped the attack.
The Israeli military said a naval force in the area had attacked a boat carrying “a squad of terrorists wearing diving suits on their way to execute a terror attack,” without giving any further details.
Speaking to AFP, survivor Abu Al Walid said there were seven unarmed men on board, all from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an armed group which is losely tied to the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
“We were doing some regular training along the Gaza coast,” he said. “During the early morning, we were surprised by dozens of naval boats which opened fire and began shelling us. Four of our people were killed, two of us escaped and one is still missing.”
Walid said there were “no arms in the boat,” and that the group had been engaged in “swimming training” at the time of the attack, which took place about 100 metres (yards) off the shore.
“We do this training every year, it is our right to train where we want when we want. It is also our right to resist,” he said.
Several hours later, there was an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, which moderately injured an armed member of the Hamas-run police force near Jabaliya, Palestinian medical and security sources said.
The Israeli military said the attack had “targeted a terrorist squad preparing to fire rockets into Israel.” It said more than 10 rockets or mortar rounds had been fired into southern Israel over the past three weeks.