Gazan injured in February border clashes said to succumb to injuries

Palestinian media reports say 22-year-old hit in the head with tear gas canister; suspicious object tied to cluster of balloons found in Eshkol region

Illustrative: Palestinian paramedics carry away on a stretcher a youth injured during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 1, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian paramedics carry away on a stretcher a youth injured during clashes following a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 1, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

A Palestinian man wounded by Israeli security forces in clashes along the Gaza border last month succumbed to his injuries on Monday, the enclave’s health ministry said.

Bassem Osman Safi, 22, died from his wounds after being injured during a weekly border protest east of Khan Younis on February 22, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said on Twitter.

Reports in Palestinian media said Safi was hit in the head with a tear gas canister.

The restive Gaza border has seen increasingly intense bouts of violence in recent days, with Israel carrying out airstrikes in response to explosives tied to balloons launched from the Palestinian territory.

Amid the heightened tensions, the southern town of Netivot planned to test its air raid sirens at 10:05 on Monday morning. Residents of the area were told that in the case of an actual attack the alarm system would sound twice.

A suspected explosive device, which was flown into Israel from the Gaza Strip, is found in an open field in the Eshkol region on March 11, 2019. (Eshkol Regional Council)

Also on Monday, a suspicious object tied to a cluster of balloons was found in the Eshkol region in southern Israel. A day earlier, Israeli jets bombed Hamas targets in Gaza after Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a mortar shell at Eshkol.

The army said the early-morning strikes were in response to the mortar attack the previous night, as well as “continuing terror activities from the Strip, including balloon explosives and causing harm to security infrastructure in the last several days.”

As tensions between the sides continue to simmer, Gazans have also been launching balloon-borne bombs at Israel and firing small arms across the border, along with holding near-daily protests and riots at the fence, in which fire bombs are thrown at troops and Palestinians attempt to damage the barriers, according to the army.

Israel has carried out perfunctory air raids after each balloon or mortar attack, usually hitting empty military posts maintained by the Hamas terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip.

The uptick of violence comes after several months of relative calm thanks to a hard-won ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Egypt and other mediators have been working intensively in recent weeks to broker a new ceasefire agreement between the two sides, but thus far to no avail.

Fire and smoke billow following Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas infrastructure in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would not hesitate to launch a large-scale military operation in Gaza, vowing his government would do whatever necessary to restore calm to southern communities.

At the start to the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu warned Hamas that it should not assume that Israel would not respond to the recent attacks because of Israel’s approaching elections.

“I heard people from Gaza saying that since we are in an election campaign a wide-ranging operation is out of the question,” he said. “I suggest to Hamas – don’t count on it. We will do everything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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