Three Palestinians shot dead by Israeli helicopter

Sara Elizabeth Williams
Young Palestinians holding wooden rifles demonstrate their skills during a military-style graduation ceremony at a summer camp organised by Islamic Jihad, in Gaza City - REUTERS

Three Palestinians were shot and killed by an Israeli helicopter and tank on the northern Gaza border fence in a marked escalation of violence along the tense stretch.

Israel opened fire on what it described as “armed suspects” several hours after Palestinian militants in Gaza fired three Qassam rockets at Israel late Saturday.

On Sunday morning Hamas’ health ministry reported three men dead and a fourth injured following the incident just north of Beit Lahia.

Hamas said in a statement that the deaths of Mahmoud al-Walayda, 24, Mohammed Abu Namus, 27, and Mohammed Samir al-Taramsi, 26, were "another crime by the Israeli occupation to be added to its grim toll against the Palestinian people's rights, land and holy sites."

No casualties were reported following Saturday’s rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Israel’s military said two rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system, but did not comment on the third.

Saturday was the second consecutive night that residents of southern Israel heard the wail of rocket sirens, after a rocket fired on Friday was intercepted.

Israel responded to Friday’s rocket by carrying out strikes on what it said were two of Hamas’ “underground targets” in the northern and central Strip.

Tensions along the Gaza border fence, particularly in the north, have been roiling since March 2018, when weekly demonstrations began taking place just inside the border fence, often followed by bloody clashes.

Since then, Gaza-related violence has seen seven Israelis and at least 305 Palestinians killed, and both Hamas and Israel’s centre and right accuse the other of deliberately escalating the situation.

But the recent escalation, which began on 1 August when a Palestinian was shot by Israeli forces during a firefight as he tried to breach the border, has threatened to set the tinderbox alight. 

Hamas recently warned that “the rage and stress that the Palestinian people live in is going to blow up in Israel's face if the blockade over the Gaza Strip is not removed.”

But the loosening of any of the restrictions shaping Gazans’ lives looks unlikely with the escalated security situation and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long leaned to the right for support, facing a make-or-break election in mid-September.