A member of the Egyptian armed forces shot and killed 15-year-old Israeli Nimer Bassem Abu Amar near Mount Harif in southern Israel on Tuesday afternoon while he was working on the border fence with Egypt, the army confirmed Wednesday.
Though it was initially unclear who was responsible for the fatal shooting, following a preliminary review, the Israel Defense Forces now believes an Egyptian security officer opened fire in a case of “misidentification,” an army spokesperson told The Times of Israel.
Abu Amar, from Lakiya, a predominantly Bedouin village in southern Israel, had been employed by a civilian subcontractor hired by the Defense Ministry to perform maintenance work on the fence, a spokesperson for the ministry said on Tuesday.
The teenager had been working close to the border at the time of the incident, pouring coffee for other workers, in an area where the designation between Israeli and Egyptian territory can be unclear.
Witnesses said he was still within Israel’s borders when an Egyptian soldier guarding the other side of the border shouted at him to return to the Israeli side.
The Sinai Peninsula, which lies across the Israeli-Egyptian border, has seen rising tensions, rampant gunfights and terror attacks as the Egyptian army battles both insurgent jihadist groups affiliated with the Islamic State and criminal smugglers.
In light of the security situation in Sinai, the work along the border had been “coordinated ahead of time with Egypt,” the army spokesperson said.
That message, however, does not appear to have reached all the Egyptian troops on the ground, as Abu Amar was mistaken for either a smuggler or a militant. The apparent breakdown in communication within the Egyptian security forces could not be confirmed by the IDF.
“The investigation is ongoing,” the army spokesperson said.
The IDF official also responded to some of the claims made by Abu Amar’s father, who on Tuesday night accused the Defense Ministry and army of “abandoning” his son.
Speaking outside the Beersheba hospital where his son had been taken, Bassem Abu Amar charged that the workers did not have an armed escort while working on the tense border and criticized the soldiers for not firing back at the Egyptian forces.
“The IDF arrived and hid, to my sorrow. This is the Defense Ministry; these are soldiers, they’re supposed to respond. You don’t do this work without the IDF. When there was shooting, they didn’t respond, didn’t shoot. I want to know where the army was,” he said.
According to the army, however, a unit from the Artillery Corps had been present at the work site during the incident, and had not merely been in the “general vicinity.”
The IDF spokesperson said the soldiers realized quickly that the shooting had not been a terror attack, but was some kind of accident or mistake, and therefore did not fire back.
While some questions regarding what happened in the fatal shooting have been answered by the army’s preliminary review of the incident, it remained unclear why the information about the planned work on the fence did not reach the troops on the ground and how a 15-year-old came to be employed on the dangerous Sinai border.
The Defense Ministry said the minor had been brought to work on the site by family members who were employed by the subcontractor that performs maintenance along the Egyptian border fence, in an apparent violation of labor laws and Defense Ministry rules.
The ministry said it had “reached out to the maintenance subcontractor company” in order to get additional information about the incident.
This was not the first time civilian contractors employed by the Defense Ministry have been killed while working close to the border, nor was it the first death of a 15-year-old.
In 2014, a missile was fired at a group of contractors and one of the workers’ sons, who were riding in a car near the Syrian border. The 15-year-old, Muhammad Qaraqra, was killed and three others were injured in the attack.
The year before, Saleh Abu Latif, a Defense Ministry contractor, was shot and killed by a sniper as he repaired the Gaza security barrier after a storm.
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