By Luis Ramirez for VOA News in Jerusalem – Israeli forces have killed four Palestinian divers that Israel says were heavily armed and preparing to carry out a terrorist attack.
The Israel Defense Forces says its navy spotted several men in diving suits off the coast of the Gaza Strip. IDF officials say they had information the men intended to carry out a terror attack on Israel, just a few kilometers to the north.
A hospital in Gaza says the bodies of four men were recovered.
One man was reported missing, and another made it back to shore with slight injuries.
Mohammed Dawwas, reporting for VOA in Gaza, says one survivor claims the divers were from the militant al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade group, a militant offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction.
“I just talked to the commander of this group that belongs to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and he exactly told me these words: ‘They were not on any kind of mission. They were only in training, doing some training in the sea. That is all, exactly, what they were doing.’ That is what he said.”
Later, Israel carried out an air strike in northern Gaza, hitting alleged militants who, it said, were preparing to fire a rocket into Israel.
The shooting offshore occurred as tensions remained high off the coast of Gaza, following Israel’s raid last week of an aid flotilla in which nine activists – eight Turks and one American – were killed.
Israel’s government says it opposes an international probe of last week’s raid on the aid flotilla. Israeli officials say any probe should be carried out internally by Israelis, with foreign observers.
Pressure is also growing domestically. In a letter published in a major newspaper, a group of 10 Israeli naval officers questioned the way the deadly raid was carried out.
Israel’s parliament was to vote on no-confidence motions against the government for the raid.
Some in the opposition are also questioning whether Israel should maintain its three-year-old blockade of Gaza.
Israel says the embargo is necessary to keep weapons out of the enclave. The blockade has been in place since 2007, when the militant Islamist group Hamas seized control of Gaza. The group’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish State.