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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Two Palestinian teenagers shot dead by Israeli soldiers

Israel says its forces had fired 'warning shots' at Palestinians approaching the border fence 'in a suspicious manner'

An Israeli tank manoeuvres along the border fence with the southern Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Nirim, Israel. Amir Cohen/ Reuters
An Israeli tank manoeuvres along the border fence with the southern Gaza Strip near Kibbutz Nirim, Israel. Amir Cohen/ Reuters

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in Gaza in a flare-up after soldiers were wounded by an explosive device on the Palestinian enclave's border, Gaza medical sources said on Sunday.

The fatalities were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed during a strike east of Rafah in southern Gaza.

According to Palestinian witnesses, the two were killed by shots near the border.

The Israeli army said that its forces had fired "warning shots" at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence "in a suspicious manner".

Their death comes after Israel launched a series of air strikes on Saturday targeting 18 "terror targets belonging to Hamas" in Gaza, after the explosive device wounded soldiers and a projectile from Gaza hit in an Israeli border town.

The explosion, which left two of the Israeli soldiers severely injured, was one of the most serious incidents on the border of the Hamas-ruled enclave since the Islamist movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.

In response Israel's army said "fighter jets targeted six military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, including a terrorist tunnel in the Zaytun area and military compounds near Deir El Balah and Khan Yunis".

The army then reported that a "launch was identified from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was attending a security conference in Munich, called the Gaza border incident "very serious" and pledged to "respond appropriately".

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A Palestinian security source said the Israeli air strikes hit three bases belonging to Hamas in the east of the blockaded Gaza enclave.

Two Palestinians were injured in the raids, Palestinian medical sources said.

Earlier in the day the army said "two soldiers were severely wounded, one moderately and one slightly" when an improvised explosive device blew up along the border fence with Gaza.

None of the soldiers' lives were in danger, a spokesman said.

In response Israeli forces said a tank quickly fired at an "observation post" in southern Gaza, but caused no injuries on the Palestinian side.

Palestinian security sources said the IED explosion took place east of the city of Khan Yunis.

Israeli spokesman Jonathan Conricus said a "rogue group" had claimed responsibility for the blast, probably indicating one of the more radical Islamist groups, broadly called Salafists, that are present in Gaza.

But he insisted that "from our point of view Hamas is responsible" and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.

Israel holds thePalestinian movement Hamas responsible for any fire coming from the blockaded coastal enclave.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged, in part, over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch or prepare for attacks.

Israeli aircraft hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, after it said Palestinians there fired a rocket into the Jewish state.

Rockets are usually fired not by Hamas, but by fringe radical groups.

The Israeli army responds automatically to any strikes on its territory, generally targeting Hamas facilities.

Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been heightened since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.

Mr Netanyahu is due to visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.

The March 5 visit comes after a dispute between close allies Israel and the US over Israel's settlements programme, and a scandal that has resulted in police recommending that Mr Netanyahu be indicted on corruption charges.

Also on Sunday, Israel's security agency Shin Bet said they had arrested six Palestinians suspected of planning attacks targeting Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

The six will be charged in an Israeli military court later Sunday.