Karl Vick and Khan Younis report:
A month after an unusual terror attack killed eight Israelis along a desert highway approaching the Red Sea, the incident remains shrouded in mystery, especially in Gaza, where Israeli officials insist the complex, military-style attack was orchestrated but where no group has taken responsibility. “Usually the problem is more than one group takes credit after a successful operation,” says Taheri Al-Nunu, a spokesman for Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza. Hamas had immediately denied knowledge of the attack, and hurriedly surveyed the other militant groups operating in the enclave. “All of them denied it.”
Among them was the Popular Resistance Committees, the group Israel almost immediately blamed for the attack, and promptly launched what it called a reprisal strike. Before the fighting was finished in the desert outside the resort city of Eilat, a missile from an Israeli drone exploded outside a house in Rafah, near the Egyptian border. The PRC’s top commander and two aides were killed, as well as a two-year-old child.
Afterward, the group continued to deny responsibility — also unusual in a society that celebrates lives lost opposing the Israeli occupation. As a senior Hamas official put it, with a frown: “After their leaders were killed, you would expect people to be proud.”
Israeli security officials tell TIME that the link to the PRC was as clear as the orders they monitored in real time from Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula where the militants waited in ambush. In a new detail, one official states that two of the five bodies recovered after the fighting have been identified as Gaza residents. The official did not say how the identity was confirmed, which will do little to end speculation about the incident.
“If the Israelis have any proof, give it,” says Ahmed Yusuf, a former Hamas official who now runs a Gaza think tank. “I met with these people for the Popular Resistance. They said, ‘We want to distance ourselves from what happened in Eilat and wondered why they were threatening us.'”