Israeli troops kill Palestinian on Gaza border
By Abigail Hauslohner and Ernesto Londoño,
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops fatally shot a Palestinian man and wounded at least 13 others Friday morning on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, and each side accused the other of violating a cease-fire that took effect Wednesday night.
The shooting was the first flare-up of violence since the Egyptian-brokered truce ended eight days of Israeli bombardment of Gaza and Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel — fighting that drove the two sides to the brink of all-out war.
Palestinian witnesses and human rights officials said the episode illustrated the ambiguities of the deal, which called for an examination of the safeguards along a fenced 300-meter-wide buffer zone that Israel enforces on the Gaza side of the border, as well as negotiations on ending Israel’s blockade of the territory.
The Israeli bombardment pulverized government buildings and militant weapons stores, along with many homes and shops, leaving 161 Palestinians dead. But the Gaza Strip’s Hamas leadership has emerged stronger than ever, Palestinians in Gaza said Thursday.
Amid parades of flags and political bombast, each of the strip’s militant factions hailed what they called a triumph for the Palestinian resistance and a new era for Palestinian unity.
But the separate public appearances by each militant group — rather than one unified rally — raised questions about the sturdiness of the cease-fire.
Anwar Abdel Hadi Qdeih, 20, was killed on the Gaza side when Israeli forces opened fire across the border on a few dozen mostly young men as they approached the first of two fences Friday morning, according to hospital officials and witnesses in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.
Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, denounced the shooting. But it then took the unusual step of escorting residents out of the buffer zone, after consulting with the cease-fire’s Egyptian mediators, Reuters news agency reported.
The Israeli military said hundreds of Palestinians had attempted to breach the border fence in several places Friday, prompting Israeli soldiers to shoot at them.
Some of the wounded said they had come to “see the situation” along the border, after learning from local news reports that the old border zone restrictions had been lifted.
“People were saying it’s okay to go to the fence now, and that there were no Jews there,” said Mahmoud Abu Tayem, 19, who was shot in the abdomen.
The area along the border where Abu Tayem lives is populated mostly by farmers and a small Bedouin community, who have long complained of limited access to farmland because of the Israeli-designated buffer zone.
Israel established the zone when it withdrew its military and settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Although the zone officially extends 300 meters into the enclave from the Israeli border, in practice Israeli forces have opened fire on Palestinians who come within 500 meters of the border, said Sari Bashi, director of the Gisha Legal Center for the Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights group.
As of October, Bashi said, at least 213 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces enforcing the 500-meter limit, which encompasses about 17 percent of Gaza’s land.
On Friday, many of the young Palestinians who flocked excitedly to the border fence were farmers who felt they had long been cut off from valuable arable territory in the crowded strip.
“Some came to take pictures,” while others tried to climb the fence or remove pieces of it, Abu Tayem said.
Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman, said at least 300 Palestinians “demonstrated and tried to cross the border at a number of places” along the southern frontier between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
He said Israeli soldiers initially fired “warning shots” in the air in an attempt to deter the Palestinians.
“When they continued their attempts to cross, security forces followed standard procedure and after exhausting other options fired towards their lower bodies,” he said.
“Anwar was trying to put a Hamas flag on the fence,” Omar Qdeih, a relative of the young man who was killed, told Reuters news agency. “The army fired three times into the air,” Qdeih said, then shot his relative in the head after he shouted a slogan in support of a Hamas militant leader who was killed in an Israeli airstrike last week.
Using Egypt as an intermediary, Israeli officials and leaders from Hamas have agreed to discuss security protocols along the border and Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into the Palestinian enclave. But it was not immediately clear whether such talks would be successful. Adding to the uncertainty were different interpretations on each side of the border of the vague terms outlined in Wednesday’s brief cease-fire agreement.
“The cease-fire said that people can move and work with no buffer zone,” said Khalil Abu Shammala, who heads the Addameer human rights organization in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel on Friday announced the arrest of a man in connection with Wednesday’s bombing of a public bus in Tel Aviv, the first such attack in the city since 2006.
Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, said in a statement that an Israeli Arab man who had been recruited by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group based in Gaza, was being held. The statement, which did not name the suspect, said he had confessed.
Both Israeli and Gazan officials said Friday that they remain committed to the cease-fire, but they did not disclose whether or when negotiations on security procedures along the border would be held.
Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich tweeted a photo Friday of a few dozen Palestinians, some of them teenagers, who she said were throwing rocks at the border.
Buchman said Israel considered the attempted breach a violation of the cease-fire deal that Hamas and Israel reached Wednesday but did not say whether the military would take further action.
Emad Mohamed, a hospital administrator who admitted seven of the wounded to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, said Gazans consider the Israeli shooting a breach as well. But he said he did not believe that the incident would seriously threaten the cease-fire.
“No matter the situation, it shouldn’t have resulted in killing,” Mohamed said.
Londoño reported from Tel Aviv. Karin Brulliard in Jerusalem contributed to this report.