By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – Israel’s military said soldiers opened fire on Thursday after spotting two Palestinian gunmen near the Gaza border fence, and the Hamas militant group said one of its fighters was killed.
The last round of violence in the Gaza Strip and neighbouring southern Israel was in May, with hundreds of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes over three days.
The health ministry in Gaza, an enclave run by Hamas Islamists, said a 28-year-old Palestinian was shot and killed in Thursday’s incident near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the territory.
An Israeli military spokesman said troops observed two gunmen approaching the Israeli-built security fence and “fired in order to drive them away”.
In a statement, Hamas’s armed wing said Israeli forces deliberately targeted a fighter “on duty” near the border.
“The occupation bears responsibility for the consequences of such a criminal act,” it said, referring to Israel.
After May’s fighting, there was a ceasefire brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
But tensions have remained high, with Hamas accusing Israel of failing to abide by the terms – never publicly confirmed by Israeli leaders – of a truce deal to ease a blockade of Gaza.
Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza have continued to spark fires in southern Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is running in a September election – held out the prospect on Thursday of Israeli military action.
“We are preparing for a campaign that will be broad and also surprising,” he said in Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city that has been a target of Hamas rocket attacks.
On Sunday, an 89-year-old Israeli woman, hurt while running for shelter during the fighting in May, died of her injuries, Israeli health authorities said.
Rockets and missiles fired from Gaza killed four other Israelis during those hostilities. Gaza health officials put the number of Palestinian dead at 21, saying more than half of them were civilians.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)