Palestinian terror organization Islamic Jihad said Saturday that four of its members were killed in an accidental explosion near the Gaza Strip border with Israel.
The group said in a statement that the four died during “preparations,” without giving further details. Army Radio reported that the terrorists were killed while carrying explosives in an all-terrain vehicle, suggesting the blast may have been a “work accident.” AFP said they were riding a tuk tuk vehicle which exploded a few hundred meters from the border with Israel.
The four fatalities were named as Hisham Abdel Al, Elias Al Katrous, Ae’d Al Hamaydeh, and Mohammad Al Krinawi, according to Palestinian sources.
Islamic Jihad is an ally of terrorist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. The group, which is supported by Iran, has fought alongside Hamas against Israel in multiple wars, most recently in 2014.
The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry initially claimed the blast east of Rafah in southern Gaza was caused by an Israeli strike. The IDF denied any involvement in the incident and said none of its forces had opened fire in the area.
The incident came amid tensions along the security fence in recent weeks, with the Palestinians holding mass marches near the border, and in some cases rioting, for the last three consecutive weekends. Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Hamas, which it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests.
Israel has noted a gradual decrease in the number of Gazans protesting each week.
On Friday, at least 10,000 Gazans took part in large-scale demonstrations, with the Israeli military saying protesters hurled an explosive device and firebombs at Israeli troops deployed at the border, as well as making “several attempts” to damage the fence between Israel and Gaza and cross over into Israeli territory.
Protesters torched tires and burned large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky. They also burned pictures of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians took part in the demonstrations, with the previous week attracting an estimated 30,000.
More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes over the part three weeks, according to Hamas-run health authorities. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
The protests are part of what Hamas said will be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
The idea of mass protests was initially floated by Palestinian social media activists in Gaza, but was later co-opted by Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, with the backing of smaller terror groups.
Gaza leaders have planned the so-called Marches of Return to culminate in a million-strong march in mid-May, coinciding with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
The “Return” refers to Palestinians’ demand that tens of thousands of refugees and their millions of descendants be allowed to live in today’s Israel, an influx that would spell the end of Israel as the world’s sole Jewish-majority state.
Agencies contributed to this report