Hamas militant killed by Israeli fire after soldier hurt

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Israeli tank shelling killed a Hamas militant along the Gaza border on Tuesday as Israel responded to gunfire that wounded one of its soldiers, officials said.

Those incidents and another exchange of fire earlier in the day signalled a rise in tensions as Israel blocked aid money to Gaza from Qatar over border unrest.

Mohammed al-Nabaheen, 24, was killed by tank fire while two other people were hurt, a Gaza health ministry spokesman said.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, confirmed he was a member of its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

The Israeli army said it had targeted a Hamas observation post after a soldier was lightly wounded when a bullet struck his helmet.

In a statement, it said an initial investigation found "an assailant fired at troops" during a riot that included rock-hurling.

"A bullet struck the helmet of an IDF officer, lightly injuring him," it added, referring to the Israel Defence Forces.

A picture published by the army on social media showed the soldier's damaged helmet.

Earlier Tuesday, the army said shots were also fired at troops in a separate incident.

In response a tank targeted a Hamas military post without reports of any injuries.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel had brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks.

But there were warnings of another escalation since Israel has held up the latest cash transfer from Gulf state Qatar to Gaza, set to take place under the truce.

- Protests since March -

The payments are controversial in Israel, where they have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election in April 9 polls.

Qatar's ambassador to Gaza said Monday that the $15 million (13 million euros) in cash, to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in the enclave, was expected to be delivered via Israel this week, possibly on Wednesday.

But after the latest violence, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu had decided not to allow the transfer on Wednesday.

Israel's permission is required since the cash must be delivered via its territory.

Hamas is labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.

The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90 million, in connection with the truce.

Israel has also allowed deliveries of Qatari-financed fuel to the blockaded enclave to help ease a severe electricity shortage.

Mass protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza-Israel border in March last year.

The weekly protests have been calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

At least 244 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, the majority during protests and clashes. Others have died in airstrikes or shelling.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched special forces operation inside Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.