Two Palestinian Arabs were wounded on Wednesday when Israeli navy vessels destroyed two Gaza-bound boats "smuggling cigarettes" from Egypt, Palestinian Arab media told AFP.
Palestinian Arab witnesses and medical sources said the navy opened fire at the vessels as they were heading towards Rafah, moderately wounding two people, while the rest of the crew managed to escape.
An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed the incident, saying a naval vessel had been damaged by Palestinian gunfire in the exchange. She said naval forces had identified two Palestinian vessels trying to reach southern Gaza from Egyptian territorial waters in a "suspected smuggling attempt."
Troops had called on the boats to stop and fired warning shots, but the appeal was ignored.
"After the vessels failed to comply the soldiers fired toward the vessels. Hits were confirmed, and secondary explosions were heard," she said.
At the same time, gunmen in Gaza began firing at the naval forces, damaging the navy boat. "The soldiers responded by opening fire toward the terrorist position," she explained.
Palestinian Arab sources said the boat was merely smuggling cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, cigarettes do not explode after contact with gunfire - leading to suspicions that the boat was smuggling arms or other dangerous substances.
Israel imposed a maritime blockade on the Hamas-controlled area, under which Gaza vessels are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles from the shore, in 2006.
And Egypt has severely restricted access to the territory for security reasons, with its military destroying 1,370 smuggling tunnels under its border with Gaza, as ties with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas have soured.
Wednesday's incident marks another maritime clash between Hamas and Israel, after the IDF conducted the raid on the Klos C weapons ship in the Red Sea two weeks ago, between the waters of Sudan and Eritrea.
The ship, which flew a Panamanian flag, carried weapons which were made in Syria under Iran’s directives and were being taken to Sudan. From there, they would be taken to the Sinai Peninsula and smuggled to Gaza through the underground tunnels.