300 Palestinians attempt to breach Gaza border fence

IDF fire kills one and injures several others, report Palestinian sources; Palestinian Authority FM, Islamic Jihad spokesman say shooting violates ceasefire

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hurling rocks and attempting to breach the border fence in November 2012. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hurling rocks and attempting to breach the border fence in November 2012. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Some 300 Palestinians approached the Israel-Gaza border fence at several locations in southern Gaza Friday, and tried to damage it and cross into Israel, according to the IDF. Protesters also hurled rocks at Israeli troops. A Palestinian man was reported killed in the clashes.

Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to distance the Palestinians from the fence, but after they attempted to cross into Israel, troops fired at their legs, the military said. It also said a Palestinian infiltrated into Israel in the course of the unrest, but he was returned to Gaza.

A Palestinian health official said Israeli troops shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian man and wounded 19 people as crowds surged toward the border fence, the first violence since a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers took hold some 36 hours earlier.

According to one version of events, the Palestinians who neared the border fence were agricultural workers. According to another report, the Palestinians were on their way to prayers. A family member of the man reportedly killed told Reuters that the 20-year-old had attempted to place a Palestinian flag on the fence.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the IDF shooting of the man was a violation of the ceasefire agreed upon between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza on Wednesday night following eight days of cross-border fighting, the bloodiest between Israel and Hamas in four years.

Speaking at a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, Malki called the incident “a clear violation of the agreement and should not be repeated.”

Nafez Azzam, a spokesman for Gaza’s Islamic Jihad, also said the shooting was a violation of the truce and that Egypt had been informed.

Hamas also protested what it said was a ceasefire violation. Still, Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, urged militant factions to respect the ceasefire. It appeared unlikely Hamas would retaliate for Friday’s shooting because that could jeopardize the group’s potential gains from the ceasefire deal, such as an easing of restrictions on movement in and out of the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, two people were reportedly injured by Israeli fire while marching near the same area, east of Khan Younis.

In the past, Israel’s military has barred Palestinians from getting close to the fence, and soldiers have opened fire to enforce a no-go zone meant to prevent infiltrations into Israel.

Since the ceasefire, growing numbers of Gazans have entered the no-go zone.

In one incident captured by Associated Press video, several dozen Palestinians, most of them young men, approached the fence, coming close to a group of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side.

Some Palestinians briefly talked to the soldiers, while others appeared to be taunting them with chants of “God is great” and “Morsi, Morsi,” in praise of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, whose mediation led to the truce.

The ceasefire agreement allowed both Hamas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step back from the brink of a full-fledged war. Over eight days, Israel’s aircraft carried out some 1,500 strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Gaza fighters battered Israel with roughly the same number of rockets.

The fighting killed 166 Palestinians, 120 of whom were “engaged in terrorist activity,” according to the IDF, and six Israelis.

In Cairo, Egypt is hosting separate talks with Israeli and Hamas envoys on the next phase of the ceasefire: a new border deal for blockaded Gaza. Hamas demands lifting all border restrictions, while Israel insists that Hamas must halt weapons-smuggling to the territory.

In Israel, a poll showed that about half of Israelis think their government should have continued its military offensive against Hamas.

The independent Maagar Mohot poll released Friday shows 49 percent of respondents feel Israel should have kept going after the squads that fire rockets into Israel. Thirty-one percent supported the government’s decision to stop. Twenty percent had no opinion.

Twenty-nine percent thought Israel should have sent ground troops to invade Gaza. The poll of 503 respondents had an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.

The same survey showed Netanyahu’s Likud Party and electoral partner Yisrael Beytenu losing some support, but his hard-line bloc would still be able to form the next government. Elections are January 22.

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