Three Hamas policemen killed in rare attacks with Gaza in 'state of alert'

Gaza’s interior ministry said Wednesday arrests have been made in a pair of coordinated bombings that killed three Hamas policemen at Gaza City checkpoints the previous night.

Details on the arrests were not immediately available. The attacks have left the Palestinian enclave has since been in a "state of alert," The Times of Israel reported. The militant group set up additional checkpoints across Gaza, inspecting passing cars and travelers' IDs.

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Two officers were killed Tuesday when a motorbike exploded at a traffic police checkpoint on Gaza City's coastal road, the Associated Press reported. Less than an hour later, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a similar checkpoint two miles away, killing a third policeman. A security officer close to the investigation told AP the bomber's family was summoned and identified their son.

Security forces loyal to Hamas stopping a vehicle at a checkpoint in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Security forces loyal to Hamas stopping a vehicle at a checkpoint in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. (SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)

If both explosions are confirmed to be suicide bombings, Tuesday’s attacks would be the first coordinated suicide bombings aimed at local Palestinian targets. Two years ago, a fugitive jihadist blew himself up, killing a security officer, when Hamas security forces stopped him while trying to cross Gaza’s border into Egypt.

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Security forces loyal to Hamas checking the scene following an explosion in Gaza City. 

Security forces loyal to Hamas checking the scene following an explosion in Gaza City.  (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Thousands of Palestinians took part Wednesday in funerals for the three policemen. Two of the police officers were 32 and the third was 45, The Times of Israel reported, citing the interior ministry. The military wing of Hamas reportedly hailed them as members.

“Go on with God’s blessing and strike with an iron fist on everyone who allows himself, whoever he is, to tamper with our inner front,” Khalil al-Haya, a Hamas official, told mourners during a military funeral service.

Security forces loyal to Hamas transporting the body of one of the police officers killed during his funeral in Gaza City on Wednesday.

Security forces loyal to Hamas transporting the body of one of the police officers killed during his funeral in Gaza City on Wednesday. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The ministry reportedly blamed the attacks on Israel at first but later retracted the claim. The Israeli military said it had not carried out any airstrikes in Gaza at the time of the bombings.

The Times of Israel, citing a source familiar with the investigation, reported that a Salafist group in Gaza that sympathized with ISIS was suspected. The Salafists are said to believe Hamas is too lenient in imposing Islamic norms on the already conservative society. After Hamas seized control of Gaza, Salafist radicals expressed their discontent by targeting Internet cafes and video stores.

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In 2009, Hamas and the Salafists battled when an imam declared an Islamic emirate in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Another bloody round of fighting took place two years later after extremists kidnapped and killed a pro-Palestinian Italian activist in Gaza.

Egypt accused Hamas of allowing many of those radicals to cross into the turbulent northern Sinai Peninsula through underground tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border. Hamas denied the charge and, in an effort to appeal to Egypt, built a buffer zone in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.