Israel army says killed 4 armed Palestinians on Gaza border

Jerusalem (AFP) –


The Israeli army said its troops shot dead four heavily armed Palestinians on the Gaza border early Saturday, alleging one of them had managed to cross and throw a grenade at soldiers.

There have been frequent clashes along the Gaza border since the Palestinians began organising regular mass protests there in March 2018.

But Saturday's exchange was unusual due to the weaponry the Israeli army said was involved on the Palestinian side.

"The terrorists were equipped with AK-47 assault rifles, RPG grenade launchers and hand grenades," an army statement said.

A spokeswoman said "the army opened fire after one of the terrorists scaled the barrier and hurled a grenade at the soldiers."

No casualties were reported in Israeli ranks.

Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the four Palestinians were all wearing "uniforms" -- without elaborating -- and were equipped with food and a medical kit as well as the rifles.

"At this stage, we are still trying to determine why they had this medical kit with them," he told reporters.

Conricus restated Israel's longstanding position that it holds Gaza's rulers Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory, since they control it.

- Hamas condemns killings -

A Hamas statement condemned Israel's killing of the four Palestinians as a "crime".

But the Islamist rulers of the Palestinian enclave made no claim of responsibility and did not say if the four were members of its armed wing.

Palestinian sources said the four men all came from the village of Wadi al-Salqa, close to the Israeli border.

Palestinian demonstrations at the border demanding the lifting of Israel's more than decade-old blockade have often led to violence and a deadly response from the Israeli army.

At least 301 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since March 2018, the majority during the demonstrations.

Seven Israelis have also been killed.

The protests have declined in intensity in recent months following a truce brokered by UN officials and Egypt.

Under the truce, Israel agreed to take steps to ease aspects of its blockade in return for calm on the border.

Sporadic violence has continued but the Israeli army has said most of it has consisted of lone-wolf attacks.

On August 1, a Palestinian seeking to avenge his brother's death by Israeli fire entered Israel from Gaza armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand grenades. He was killed and three Israeli soldiers wounded, the army said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major flare-up in the Palestinian territories as Israel prepares for a snap general election on September 17, its second this year.

But he is likely to face political pressure to act firmly against any significant attack.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

The attack came as Palestinians prepare to mark Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice.

Israel is still conducting a manhunt in the occupied West Bank for the killers of an off-duty soldier whose body was found with multiple stab wounds on Thursday just 50 metres (yards) from the gates of the settlement where he lived.

His killing had already raised Israeli-Palestinian tensions.