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15-year-old Palestinian killed, 2 injured by Israeli shelling in Rafah

March 22, 2017 9:50 A.M. (Updated: May 30, 2017 6:57 P.M.)
15-year-old Yousif Shaaban Abu Athra
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A 15-year-old Palestinian was killed and two other Palestinians were injured by Israeli shelling in eastern Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip before dawn on Wednesday.

Locals told Ma'an that Israeli drones were also flying overhead as the sound of gunshots and explosions were heard.

Spokesperson for Gaza's Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement that Yousif Shaaban Abu Athra, 15, was killed while two others sustained multiple injuries from shrapnel as a result of the artillery fire. He was initially reported to be 18-years-old.

The two injured were taken to the Abu Yousif Najjar Hospital in Rafah for treatment. Their identities and their medical conditions remained unknown.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma'an that Israeli forces had "detected three suspects" near Israel's military border fence in southern Gaza, and that Israeli forces responded by "firing with a tank toward the suspect," adding that "one hit was confirmed."

However the spokesperson did not explicitly acknowledge that someone had been killed or elaborate on what had been suspicious about their behavior.

According to Israel news site Ynet, the Israeli army was investigating whether the three Palestinians "were trying to plant an explosive device."

In a separate incident in southern Gaza on Wednesday morning, witnesses told Ma’an that four Israeli bulldozers raided the town of al-Qarrara in northern part of Khan Yunis, escorted by several Israeli military vehicles deployed inside the Gaza’s borders.

Witnesses said that Israeli soldiers indiscriminately opened fire at Palestinian farmers tending to their lands there, however no injuries were reported.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were looking into the incident. However, as Israeli military incursions inside Gaza have long been a near-daily occurrence, the incidents often go unreported. Palestinians who work near the “buffer zone” often come under fire from Israeli military forces, as the authorities have not made clear the precise area of the designated zone.

Cross-border tensions between Israel and Gaza have been running high recently, following a number of airstrikes and shelling by Israeli forces and shooting and rocket fire from Gaza, that have left at least 13 Palestinians injured since the beginning of the year.

The death of 15-year-old Abu Athra marked the fourth time a Palestinian was killed in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of 2017 as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two Palestinians were killed and five were injured as a result of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a smuggling tunnel between Egypt and Gaza in February, in which the Israeli army denied involvement.

Palestinian fisherman Muhammad al-Hissi went missing in January after an encounter with Israeli forces, with his family later announcing his death. However, his body has yet to be recovered. Locals told Ma’an at the time of the incident that Israeli forces purposely attacked and sunk al-Hissi’s boat.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed eight Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave over the course of 2016. Among them were two Palestinian children, aged nine and six-years-old, who were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

The Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights expressed concern in February that Israel could be leading up to a wide-scale military offensive in the small Palestinian territory.

The rights group called on the international community to “act promptly against Israel’s military escalation, to fulfill their obligations to protect civilians, and ensure respect for the rules of international law,” stressing that “acting before a full-scale military bombardment is launched is crucial to ensuring the protection of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

Despite accusations from Israeli army officials that the ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip are in response to rockets fired from Hamas forces in Gaza, Hamas has yet to claim responsibility for any military action from Gaza against Israel since a ceasefire the 2014 war.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya reiterated earlier this month that the Hamas movement “is not seeking new military confrontations with the Israeli occupation.”

"We don't seek war, and we are committed to the ceasefire agreement of 2014." However, he went on to warn that Hamas would defend themselves if Israel waged war on the coastal enclave. "We are not war fanatics, but we are a bereaved and oppressed people who resist occupation," al-Hayya said.
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