Covert military operation in Middle East exposed, igniting new tensions

 A senior Israeli military officer and seven militants, including a Hamas commander, were killed late Sunday after a covert operation by Israel inside the Gaza Strip appears to have been exposed, sparking an exchange of fire, airstrikes and later a barrage of rocket fire.

The hostilities could undermine what had been promising signs in recent days of calm returning to the region after more than six months of heightened tensions.

The Israeli military remained tight-lipped over exact details of the incident Sunday night. Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, chief of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, said in a statement only that a special force was involved in a “very meaningful operation for Israel’s security.”

The army confirmed that a covert operation was underway at least two miles inside the Gaza Strip when the unit’s presence was somehow exposed. An exchange of fire between the troops and a group of Palestinian fighters ensued, turning deadly and leading to the Israeli unit’s call for backup from the air.

A statement from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said that “Zionist enemy special forces,” in a civilian car, infiltrated two miles into Gaza, east of the Palestinian town of Khan Younis.

Nour Baraka, a local Hamas leader, was “assassinated,” the statement said. It also described how the Israeli soldiers’ identities were uncovered and how…

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