2 killed in Gaza blast during attempted launch of projectile toward Israel

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine says two of its fighters died in the line of duty; Hamas-run health ministry had claimed they were hit by Israeli airstrike

Explosions are seen following Israeli strikes in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Explosions are seen following Israeli strikes in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Two Palestinian terrorists were killed early Sunday in the Gaza Strip by an explosion during preparations to launch a projectile at Israel.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) named the two members of its armed wing as Ayman al-Najjar, 26, and Muhannad Hamuda, 24, both from Jabaliya in northern Gaza.

The explosion happened east of Jabaliya, with the PFLP saying the two were killed in the line of duty.

Local residents said the men were preparing to fire a projectile when the explosion occurred.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip had earlier said that the two men were killed by an Israeli airstrike overnight.

The Israel Defense Forces denied the claim.

Recent weeks have seen the most serious tensions with Hamas since the 2014 war.

On Saturday, Palestinian media reported that an Israeli aircraft targeted a group of Gazans launching flammable balloons from the southern part of the strip. The army said it was unaware of the incident.

Over the weekend, incendiary balloons sparked more than ten fires near communities along the coastal enclave, firefighters said.

Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary devices attached to balloons or kites launched from Gaza across the border into Israeli territory.

Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damage, according to Israeli officials. The attacks have continued almost daily, although there has been a marked reduction in numbers since last weekend, when Hamas said it agreed to a ceasefire.

Israel has been escalating its responses to the arson attacks, in some cases opening fire directly on arson squads instead of sufficing with warning shots as it did in the past.

Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Also on Saturday, a Palestinian teenager died of his wounds after reportedly being shot by Israeli troops a day earlier, during weekly clashes along the Gaza border, the Hamas-run health ministry said.

The teenager was the third reported fatality from the clashes, with the Gaza health ministry saying a 43-year-old man and 12-year-old boy were also shot dead Friday along the border.

The IDF said around 7,000 Palestinians participated in violent riots in several locations along the border. Protesters hurled rocks and burned tires, and attacked troops with pipe bombs, a Molotov cocktail, and a grenade — all of which did not manage to clear the fence and fell in Gazan territory.

The army said soldiers responded to the violence with less-lethal means as well as live fire in certain instances.

Some time after the protests ended, gunmen fired at IDF soldiers near the border, causing no casualties. In response, the military launched a strike on a nearby Hamas observation post.

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