IDF shoots at 2 Palestinians it says planted ‘suspicious object’ on Gaza fence

Suspects approached border east of Khan Younis in southern Strip, are reportedly killed in airstrike; incident comes amid uptick in Gaza violence

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative. Palestinians pull on a cable tied to a barbed-wire fence as they try to pull down a section of the security fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, during border clashes east of Gaza City, on September 7, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)
Illustrative. Palestinians pull on a cable tied to a barbed-wire fence as they try to pull down a section of the security fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, during border clashes east of Gaza City, on September 7, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

An Israeli aircraft fired at two Palestinians whom the military said planted a “suspicious object” along the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday night.

“An IDF aircraft attacked terrorists who approached the fence in the southern Gaza Strip in a suspicious manner and planted a suspicious object along it,” the army said in a statement.

Palestinian media reported that the suspects were killed in the airstrike, east of the city of Khan Younis. This could not be immediately confirmed.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said medical teams were searching the border region east of Khan Younis but had yet to find any casualties.

Last week, the Israeli military destroyed two improvised explosive devices that had been planted along the Gaza security fence, including one near the site of Monday night’s strike.

One of the bombs had been hidden inside a blue jerrycan, while the other was buried underground and connected to a receiver so it could be detonated remotely, according to the army.

The Monday airstrike came amid a general uptick in violence along the security fence, with Palestinians holding riots on the border both in the day and night.

A group of Gazans were also said to have broken through the security fence and entered Israeli territory on Monday night, setting fire to an empty IDF sniper nest near the border.

The Israeli military refused to comment on the report.

Earlier on Monday evening, a balloon with a hand grenade attached to it was discovered in a peanut field near the Gaza border, between the southern kibbutzim of Re’im and Urim.

Police volunteers identified the helium-filled balloon as it came down in the field. Police sappers were called the scene to disarm the grenade, and Route 234 between the two communities was temporarily closed to traffic.

A grenade attached to a balloon found outside Kibbutz Re’im near the Gaza border on September 18, 2018. (Israel Police)

An IDF spokesman said the army was investigating whether the balloon was flown over the Gaza border.

Locals said harvest was planned for tomorrow, and a tractor could have set the grenade off had it not been identified by the volunteers.

However it was not immediately clear whether the weapon was a fragmentation, stun or tear gas grenade. The pin appeared to have been pulled, making it unlikely that the grenade was still active.

Throughout the day, Palestinians burned tires and rioted in the northern Gaza Strip, as a 15-boat flotilla set sail from the area in an effort to break the Israeli maritime blockade.

Tear gas is fired on Palestinain demonstrators during a protest calling for the lift of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, on a beach in Beit Lahia near the maritime border with Israel, on September 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

In response, IDF troops reportedly launched tear gas canisters at the rioters and fired live rounds to disperse the protest in Beit Lahiya.

Reports in Palestinian media said dozens of people were injured by Israeli fire and tear gas.

A surge of violence in Gaza began in March with a series of protests along the border that were dubbed the “March of Return.” The clashes, which Israel says are being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers and attempts to breach the border fence.

Gaza protesters have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

On Friday, some 12,000 Palestinians participated in the weekly demonstrations along the border. The army said rioters burned tires and hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded according to open-fire regulations. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said three protesters were killed by Israeli fire in the protests.

On Sunday, 300 Palestinians took part in three separate violent border protests throwing rocks, firebombs and high-powered fireworks at soldiers.

The IDF said soldiers responded by launching tear gas canisters and firing live rounds “in accordance with the rules of engagement.

Israel says its actions — and in particular the use of live ammunition — are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory. Israel has accused the Hamas terror group of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks, including firing at troops and attempting to breach the border fence.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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