Several residents living east of Khan Younis in Gaza were seen leaving their homes Saturday, witnesses said, following clashes a day earlier that left two Israeli soldiers and three Palestinians dead.
Meanwhile, four Israeli tanks and a bulldozer rolled in to Gaza, east of Khan Younis, early Saturday, witnesses told CNN. The military vehicles left soon after they arrived, the witnesses added.
The IDF said that "after yesterday's events, IDF continued to operate in the area and removed infrastructure used by the terrorists to carry out the attack yesterday."
The Israeli military would not confirm the report that tanks had entered and then withdrew from Gaza.
Later, Israel Defense Forces helicopters and drones were seen and heard around 7:10 p.m. (12:10 p.m. ET) Saturday above northern Gaza, Khan Younis, and off the Gazan coast, the witnesses said. The IDF would not comment when asked if the Israel's air force was carrying out an operation in the area.
Witnesses said some residents were leaving the area in fear of IDF retaliation after Friday's clashes, which the IDF said involved an exchange of fire "with terrorists who were planting explosives along the security fence in the Gaza Strip."
After seeing the "terrorists" plant explosives, IDF moved forward and fired, killing two militants, said Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, according to IDF's Web site.
"The soldiers advanced in a proper operational manner and when the terrorists were seen moving westward, tanks that were stationed undercover opened fire," Galant said. "One of the terrorists approached the forces point blank and opened fire."
Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Ilan Sviatkovsky was killed when a bullet hit a hand grenade that was on his vest, IDF said. The explosion also wounded the two other soldiers. Maj. Eliraz Peretz was killed in an exchange of fire, IDF said. They are the first Israeli military personnel to be killed in combat in Gaza in more than a year.
The military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, said at a news conference Friday that its forces clashed with Israelis near the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza. It claimed responsibility for killing and wounding Israeli soldiers. The group said one of its fighters was killed, and that it lost contact with another.
A third Palestinian, 23-year-old Haitham Arafat, died at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis from serious injuries, medical officials said. Earlier, medical sources said that eight Palestinian civilians were wounded in the clashes.