Israel’s military and Palestinian militants in Gaza exchanged fire on Sunday, hours after a graphic video showing a bulldozer in the Israeli army scraping off a dead man’s body was viral.
According to the Israeli army, by early Sunday evening, more than 20 rockets were fired at Israel, making it the largest single attack by activists on Israel in several months.
The army said it intercepted more than half of the launches with its Iron Dome aerial defense system, with many others landing in open areas. There are no reports from rockets regarding any Israeli injuries.
Israel has said it has launched a series of attacks on sites belonging to Islamic Jihad, the smaller of Gaza’s two main militants. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israeli army, told CNN it was the military’s conclusion that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the rocket fire.
In a statement on its official website, Islamic Jihad assumed responsibility, saying its military wing, Saraya al-Quds, is responsible for the shelling. It promised to retaliate against any future “aggression.” Among the strikes, Israel says it was able to hit a group of Islamic Jihad operatives who were preparing to launch a fresh rocket barrage.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said four people were being treated for injuries at Shifa hospital in Gaza, although it was not clear whether they were involved in the rocket attacks.
The escalation began Sunday morning when the Israeli army said it was spotting two people trying to lay an explosive device near the fence separating Gaza from Israel. The army — which released a video that it said showed the two men performing their operation — opened fire, killing one.
The dead man has been identified as Mohammed Al-Naim, 27. The Quds Brigade, Islamic Jihad’s armored wing, said he was among their fighters.
Gaza sources tell CNN that the other man is being treated for severe wounds at a Gaza hospital.
According to the Israeli army, it was the second time in several days that Islamic Jihad leaders have tried to place an explosive device near to the border.
A local journalist caught the scene on video as the dead man lay on the ground, and was later widely shared on social media.
A group of four people is seen running towards the body in an apparent attempt to retrieve it in the video. Opposite, a bulldozer from the Israeli army approached.
Gunshots could be heard as the bulldozer moved up to the group, which had to give up its effort to carry away the body. Several men were seen throwing rocks at the vehicle nearby.
The front scoop of the bulldozer then appears to be coming down onto the dead body as the driver makes several unsuccessful attempts to pick it up.
The body is finally seen hanging from the pick before the bulldozer moves back to the fence’s Israeli side, covered by a tank.
“I’m sick of the corrupted left-wing criticism of the ‘ inhumanity ‘ of using a bulldozer to carry us the body of a terrorist who was attempting to assassinate Israelis. Hamas keeps the bodies of Hadar and Goldin,” he said in a statement, referring to the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza War.
The statement went on, “I’m standing behind the IDF who killed the terrorists and collected the body. That’s how we have to act and that’s how we’re going to act.
An Israeli military official told CNN that using bulldozers to clear the area was standard practice after a militant attack and that they had previously been used to remove bodies, although he admitted it was not the preferred way to do so.
The escalation of Sunday came on the final day of the most recent visit to Gaza by Qatar’s territorial ambassador, Mohammed Al-Emadi, who discussed a further tranche of millions worth of Qatar’s financial assistance to Gazans.
Aid from Qatar is a key part of multilateral efforts to broker a long-term cease-fire agreement between Israel and Gaza militants, including Egypt and the United Nations, that would see Israel loosen its restrictions on Gaza in exchange for a cessation of violence.
Islamic Jihad is widely viewed as opposed to those agreements, putting it at odds with Gaza-controlled Hamas.