An Israeli Bedouin teen killed Tuesday while working on upkeep of Israel’s security fence on the border with Egypt will be buried in his hometown of Lakiya Wednesday amid angry questions about the circumstances of his death.
Nimer Bassem Abu Amar, 15, from the predominantly Bedouin village in southern Israel, was the oldest of four children. His family plans to bury him as soon as his body returns from an autopsy intended to help investigators determine who killed him.
“My son took a bullet in his upper body, and the guys [fellow workers] fled to a riverbed,” father Bassem Abu Amar said late Tuesday.
Bassem accused the IDF of failing to protect the workers. “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 told reporters outside the hospital where his son had been taken.
Witnesses said Nimer, who had just begun working at the site for a subcontractor known to the family, was asked to make coffee for his fellow laborers, who were clearing brush near the fence. He then stepped outside the fence, but witnesses say 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.
A shot then rang out, seriously wounding Nimer, who died a short time later at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.
An IDF force that responded to the incident did not return fire because it had stopped immediately after it started, the army said in an initial response to the father’s accusations.
The Sinai Peninsula, which lies across the Israeli-Egyptian border, has seen rising tensions, rampant gunbattles and terror attacks as the Egyptian army battles both insurgent jihadist groups affiliated with the Islamic State and smugglers.
An investigation of the details surrounding the incident, including why a minor was employed by a subcontractor at the site in violation of labor laws and Defense Ministry rules, is ongoing, officials said.
Bassem, the father, described his son to reporters gathered at Soroka as “modest, hard-working and serious.”
“They abandoned him,” he concluded.
“More people could have died. Where’s the prime minister? Where’s the defense minister?” he asked.
While members of Knesset have sent condolences to the family and some have expressed anger at the Defense Ministry for employing a minor through a civilian subcontractor, neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had released public statements about the incident as of Wednesday morning.
Neither the army nor the Defense Ministry has clarified whether the workers had an armed escort, or if their work on the border was coordinated with Egyptian officials.
“The after-action review is ongoing,” an IDF spokesperson said.
Israel’s Channel 10 news reported that the shooting may have been carried out by Egyptian forces who misidentified Abu Amar, believing him to be a smuggler or a terrorist.
Earlier in the day, Egyptian security sources told Sky News Arabia that it was a group the smugglers that opened fire at the Israeli contractors, during a clash with Egyptian troops.
Neither the Israeli army nor the Defense Ministry would comment on the claims.
Initially, the Defense Ministry said Abu Amar was simply an employee of the civilian subcontractor it had hired to perform maintenance work on the fence. But later the ministry appeared to indicate that the teenager was not a formal employee, but had been “brought to the work site by his family members,” a spokesperson said.
The ministry said it had “reached out to the maintenance subcontractor company” as part of its investigation.
This was not the first time civilian contractors employed by the Defense Ministry have been killed while working close to the border, nor was Abu Amar the first 15-year-old fatality.
In 2014, a missile was fired at a group of contract workers along the Syrian border, killing one of the workers’ sons, 15-year-old Muhammad Qaraqra, who was riding in a car nearby. Three others were injured in the attack.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.