Palestinian said shot dead by IDF troops at unofficial Gaza protest

5 others reported injured at rally apparently not part of March of Return demonstrations; IDF official says several people attempted to sabotage border fence

Illustrative: Palestinian protesters assist an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces across the barbed-wire fence during a border demonstration near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian protesters assist an injured protester during clashes with Israeli forces across the barbed-wire fence during a border demonstration near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

A Palestinian teenager was killed Friday afternoon when Israeli troops opened fire at a group of protesters near the Gaza-Israel border, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported.

The ministry said 16-year-old Fahed al-Astal was shot in the stomach, and that five others were wounded.

Witnesses said dozens of people had gathered near the perimeter fence east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, though there were no official demonstrations planned.

An IDF spokesman did not directly comment on the incident but said some demonstrators had approached the border fence and attempted to sabotage it. Troops responded with less-lethal means as well as some live fire.

For the third straight week, the territory’s Hamas rulers canceled the regular Friday protests for fear of instability. This was followed by two days of fighting between Israel and the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group earlier this month.

A young protester waves a Palestinian flag while demonstrating by the border fence with Israel east of Gaza City on October 4, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Earlier on Friday, an Islamic Jihad operative died of wounds he sustained during the round of fighting.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, organizers insisted that the cancellation of this week’s demonstration “has nothing to do with the recent understanding reached with Israel” and the measure was taken to protect Palestinian protesters from Israeli troops at the border.

Last Friday a Lebanese newspaper reported that the committee responsible for organizing the protests was discussing whether to reduce the frequency of the demonstrations.

There is a discussion about “rolling back the marches to once a month or during national occasions,” a source in the committee told the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar outlet, noting a decision on the matter had not been made yet.

On November 13, in the wake of the 48-hour flare-up between Israel and the Islamic Jihad, the protests were canceled for only the third time since they started in late March 2018. The move was seen as marking an attempt by Hamas to avoid fresh confrontation with Israel.

The High National Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, had said the protest was canceled to allow “the Palestinian people to continue to provide assistance to family members of martyrs and wounded persons and those whose homes were damaged in the Israeli aggression.”

The fighting earlier this month started after the Israel Defense Forces killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in Islamic Jihad.

During the escalation in tensions, the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, fired some 450 rockets and mortars at Israel, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad terrorists attend a memorial service for one of their number who was killed in clashes with Israel, November 15, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, unlike in previous rounds of fighting, was widely believed to have stayed on the sidelines.

Three Israelis were wounded by rocket fire during the fighting, and dozens were injured when they fell while running to bomb shelters.

Thirty-four Palestinians in Gaza were killed in the confrontation and 109 were injured, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. At least 19 of them were members of terror groups and several were civilians, including eight minors.

Friday’s latest scrapped protest also comes amid renewed intermittent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, terrorists fired two rockets at southern Israel as Palestinians marked a “day of rage” in response to a recent decision by the United States supporting Israeli settlements. One of the projectiles was shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system. The second appeared to strike an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel.

The IDF launched airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response, the army said.

A Palestinian protester carries a tear gas canister to be thrown back at Israeli forces across the border during protests along the border with Israel east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on July 5, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

A day earlier, a mortar shell from Gaza landed in southern Israel.

Meanwhile, postal banks in Gaza on Wednesday started to distribute $7 million in small grants from Qatar to impoverished Palestinian families in the territory.

Since March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests along the frontier on most Fridays, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

The protests have included frequent rioting with rocks, explosives and fire bombs hurled at IDF soldiers who respond with tear gas and live fire. At least 200 Palestinians have been killed, according to the health ministry.

Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.

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