GAZA, (Reuters) – Israeli forces detained two Palestinians, who the army said were Hamas militants, in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in what marked the first such arrest raid in the territory since Israel pulled out of Gaza a year ago.
Ali Muamar, a Palestinian known to local residents as a Hamas loyalist, said he was asleep on a bed outside his home near Rafah refugee camp in south Gaza when he woke up and saw uniformed Israeli soldiers scaling down the walls of his courtyard with ladders.
“They attacked me all of a sudden,” he said. “They blindfolded and handcuffed me and started beating me up with the butts of their rifles and kicking me with their boots.”
Muamar said the soldiers raided his home, took his computer and left after less than an hour with his sons — Osama, a doctor who had arrived in Gaza last month from Sudan, and Mustafa, a student of Islamic law.
A spokesman for Hamas, which won control of the Palestinian government in a Palestinian parliamentary election in January, denied the men detained were connected to the group.
An army spokeswoman confirmed troops had entered Gaza and detained the men, saying they were Hamas militants who had planned to carry out an anti-Israeli attack. Muamar said he and his sons were not involved in hostilities against Israel.
Israel pulled all troops and Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip last summer after 38 years of military rule.
Saturday’s incursion signalled an apparent change in Israeli military tactics in Gaza. Troops had entered the area several times in recent weeks in a bid to stop militants firing rockets into the Jewish state but had not carried out arrest raids.
Israel has, however, increased its air strikes in Gaza in parallel to a surge of rocket attacks and has killed more than two dozen Palestinians, including militants and civilians, in such missile strikes since the beginning of the month.
Top Israeli security officials had recently hinted they would not rule out ground raids into the territory should rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza continue.