x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Gaza man killed but ceasefire continues

GAZA CITY // A Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza yesterday, the first killing since a truce between Israel and Hamas that ended an eight-day assault on the enclave.

The shooting did not appear to pose an immediate threat to the Egypt-brokered ceasefire, which went into effect on Wednesday night and called for an end to attacks that killed 166 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, and six Israelis.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, has urged militant factions to respect the truce.

It appeared unlikely Hamas would retaliate for yesterday's shootings, which also injured 19 people, because it could jeopardise a possible end to the blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Nafez Azzam, a spokesman for Gaza's Islamic Jihad, said the shooting was a breach of the truce and that Egypt, also guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, had been informed.

Hundreds of Palestinians approached Israel's border fence in Gaza yesterday. In the past, Israeli soldiers have opened fire routinely to enforce a no-go zone meant to stop Gazans entering Israel.

Since the ceasefire, growing numbers of Gazans have entered the zone.

In one incident yesterday, several dozen Palestinians, most of them young men, approached the fence, coming close to a group of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side.

Some briefly talked to the soldiers, while others taunted them with chants of "God is Great" and "Morsi, Morsi," in praise of Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, whose mediation led to the truce.

At one point, a soldier shouted in Hebrew, "Go there, before I shoot you," and pointed away from the fence, towards Gaza.

The soldier then dropped to one knee, assuming a firing position. Eventually, a burst of automatic fire was heard but it was not clear whether any of the casualties were from this incident.

Ashraf Al Kidra, a Gaza health official, said a 20-year-old man was killed and 19 people were wounded.

Israel's military said about 300 Palestinians approached the security fence at several locations in southern Gaza, and tried to damage it to cross into Israel.

Soldiers fired warning shots in the air to move the Palestinians from the fence, but when they refused to move back troops fired at their legs, the military said.

In Cairo, Egypt is hosting separate talks with Israeli and Hamas envoys on the next phase of the ceasefire - a new border deal for blockaded Gaza.

Hamas demands the lifting of all border restrictions, while Israel insists Hamas must halt weapons smuggling to the territory.

In Jerusalem, Israel restricted Palestinian access to Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the site of King Herod's temple before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70.

"An extensive police force and border guards will also be deployed in sensitive areas around the Old City of Jerusalem," the Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

The mosque compound has been the focus of clashes in the past and Israel said it was seeking to prevent a repetition that could jeopardise the truce.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse