(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — A Palestinian farmer was killed by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, hours before Palestinians were to stage mass sit-ins along the border with Israel, a health official and a witness said.
Ahead of the protests, called for by Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, Israel’s military said it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control.
Hamas has said that Friday’s activities would be peaceful and the chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel wants to avoid violence.
However, previous protests near the border fence have turned deadly, with Israeli soldiers firing live bullets at Palestinians burning tires, throwing stones or hurling firebombs. Manelis said the military will not allow the crowds to breach the fence on Friday or damage military infrastructure.
The sit-ins are seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break a crippling, decade-old Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt that has made it increasingly difficult for the Islamic militant group to govern.
Other tactics over the years, including cross-border wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with political rival Mahmoud Abbas, the West Bank-based Palestinian president, have failed to end Gaza’s isolation.
In the planned protest, Palestinians are setting up tent camps along the border, the first of a series of actions planned in Gaza in the coming weeks.
The activities are to culminate on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with a march through the border fence.
Palestinians commemorate the date as the anniversary of their mass displacement and uprooting during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. The vast majority of Gaza residents are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from communities in what is now Israel.
The Palestinian killed Friday was identified as 27-year-old Amr Samour. The Palestinian Health Ministry said he was struck by an Israeli tank shell in the southeastern corner of Gaza.
Yasser Samour, a relative and fellow farmer, said Amr Samour was harvesting parsley before dawn, in hopes of selling it fresh in the market later in the day.
“I was working on the next field,” Samour said. “We heard shelling landing on the field where Amr works. We ran there and found him hit directly with a shell. We were more than kilometer away from the border.”
Another farmer was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, Samour said.
The Israeli military said troops directed tank fire toward two suspects who approached the fence along the southern Gaza Strip and acted suspiciously. It said it is aware of reports of a killed Palestinian.