Palestinians claimed Wednesday that Israeli soldiers made an abortive attempt to thwart the construction of a new road in the Gaza Strip running alongside with the border with Israel.
According to a report in official Hamas media site al-Resalah, four Israeli military bulldozers and two vehicles crossed the border into the east Rafah area, as assistance forces fired warning shots and Israeli drones flew overhead.
They also said that militants from the group’s armed brigade arrived at the scene to secure the construction site.
The army made no immediate comment.
The existence of the road was first reported last week, and a Hamas official said it would be used to aid a Palestinian attack on Israel, raising some concern in Jerusalem.
The road is planned to run several hundred meters from the border fence along the length of the Strip.
In photos released to media outlets on Wednesday, armed Hamas men could be seen escorting bulldozers conducting construction work near the border.
Hamas officials said the road will be named after Raed al Atar, a commander of the Rafah company of the Hamas Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and member of the Hamas high military council, who was killed during the conflict with Israel last summer.
Former Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad said that road was intended “to create for ourselves convenient opportunities to attack the Zionist enemy.”
In the wake of the report on the road Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman accused the Israeli leadership of “burying its head in the sand.”
Liberman, in a post to his Facebook page, said Hamas’s statements were “akin to a shout on a megaphone to the prime minister, who insists on remaining deaf.”
In a possibly related incident, a Palestinian farmer was wounded on Wednesday after being shot by Israeli troops near the border in southern Gaza, Palestinian health officials said.
The 22-year-old man was in a moderate condition after being shot in the stomach as he farmed land near the border in an area east of Khan Yunis, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last week warned Hamas to rein in any attempts by Gaza terror groups to attack Israel, or “pay a heavy price,” after a rocket launched from Gaza hit near the town of Gan Yavne, outside Ashdod, causing neither casualties nor damage.
Escalating rocket fire from Gaza at Israel’s southern communities in 2014 was among the triggers of a bloody, two-month war between Israel and the armed factions in the Strip. During the conflict, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, some of which reached Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa’s suburbs.
Last week’s attack marked the first time a Grad rocket, which can go farther than the smaller Kassams more commonly shot out of Gaza, had been fired at Israel since the summer war.
Israel is wary of Gaza terrorist groups rearming after war. The IDF says Hamas has been conducting test launches in recent months in order to increase its rocket-launching capabilities.
Some 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the war and tens of thousands more left homeless, according to Palestinian and UN tallies. Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, said half of the Gaza fatalities were combatants and said the high civilian toll in Gaza was due to fighters there embedding their military infrastructure in residential areas.
AFP contributed to this report.