The Hamas terror group said on Sunday that “rebellious youth” were killed by Israeli forces near the border fence between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip on Saturday night.
The Israel Defense Forces said early on Sunday that its soldiers had spotted a group of armed suspects near the fence. The military said that an attack helicopter and a tank fired at the suspects, but did not provide details on casualties.
Later in the day, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said three Palestinians were killed by the Israeli fire.
Spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou said on his Facebook page on Sunday that Israel had “killed and injured four rebellious youths, which is a reflection of its brutal behavior against our people and proof of the ugliness of its crimes.”
Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza, said in a statement that Israel had targeted a group of “angry youths” and stated that it holds the Jewish state fully responsible for “its ugly crimes at our people’s expense.”
Hamas officials have previously attributed attacks to “rebellious” or “angry” youths to distance itself from those actions.
In the past two weeks, Palestinian terrorists have attempted to cross into Israel from Gaza on a number of occasions.
On Sunday, funeral processions were held for the three Palestinians who were killed overnight. Their bodies were wrapped in Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah flags, respectively.
Qanou accused Israel of using “excessive force” and charged that “the state of anger and pressure that our people are experiencing will explode in the face of the occupation unless it lifts the siege on the Gaza Strip and stops its crimes, organized terror and repeated storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Israel maintains many restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, which its officials argue are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.
The Hamas spokesman also claimed that “the weakness and silence of the international community is encouraging the Zionist occupation to continue the siege on the Gaza Strip and to perpetrate more crimes and violations.”
Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have recently played key roles in brokering informal ceasefires between Israel and Gaza, which have largely entailed Hamas and other terror groups halting violence in the border area in exchange for the Jewish state scaling back some of the restrictions it has imposed on the coastal enclave.
Hamas, however, has frequently accused Israel of dragging its feet in implementing the informal agreements.