Text size

Tension increased in the Gaza Strip on Saturday as Israel Defense Forces troops shot dead three Palestinian teens in Rafah. Palestinian militants retaliated by firing at least 25 mortar shells at Gush Katif. There were no injuries.

The IDF fears an escalation in the hostilities following the incident.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Revava movement is planning a large demonstration at the Temple Mount on Sunday and security sources voiced fears that this may also inflame the situation.

Over 3,000 police officers will deploy in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday in order to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount, Israel Radio reported.

A senior Southern Command source told Haaretz that the teens who were killed were arms smugglers.

Senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources announced that the incident was an Israeli violation of the calm and that they were free to retaliate. However, they said they were still committed to the cease-fire.

Security sources said the escalation, which began last Tuesday with the shooting and wounding of a settler from Morag, followed by a Qassam rocket launching at Sderot, must be stopped before it endangers the cease-fire.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz sent a message to Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef on Saturday, asking him to preserve the cease-fire and not to let the situation deteriorate. Mofaz suggested looking into the matter and dealing with it as "a local incident" rather than turning it into a national incident that could lead to an escalation.

Golani troops deployed on the Philadelphi route on the Israeli-Egyptian border noticed five teenagers crawling from Rafah toward the border Saturday afternoon. As the youths, who were apparently unarmed, approached the border, the troops shot them, killing two 15-year-olds and one 14-year-old - Ashraf Musa, Khaled A'anam and Ahmad al-Jazar - in the deadliest incident in the Gaza Strip since the cease-fire with the Palestinians was declared two months ago.

The other two youths fled back into Palestinian territory, where they were detained for questioning by Palestinian security forces.

A senior officer said the soldiers had opened fire only after firing warning shots, and aimed at the lower part of the boys' bodies.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas denounced the incident, which he described as "Israel's contempt for the cease-fire." A senior Hamas leader, Said al-Siam, announced that the organization saw the incident as an Israeli violation of the cease-fire and reserved the right to respond. Palestinian leaders and militant groups stopped short of calling off the truce, but militants called for a "reevaluation" of their positions.

After the incident, militants fired at least 25 mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza, causing no injuries, the army said. IDF sources said most shells were fired by members of the Popular Resistance Committees, the Palestinian group that does not see itself bound by the Cairo understandings with the PA.

Ali Abu Zeid, a 22-year-old Rafah resident, said the teens were playing soccer in an open area when the ball was kicked toward a border fence. "The kids ran after it, and that's when we heard gunfire," he said.

Several Palestinian organizations vowed to take revenge on Israel.

The IDF will beef up its forces at the roadblocks around Jerusalem following the escalation in the Gaza Strip, due to the intention of the extremist right-wing Revava movement to bring large numbers of activists to the Temple Mount. The army will prevent Muslims under the age of 40 from coming to worship Sunday on the Temple Mount.

Over the weekend, Palestinian organizations continued to issue threats of harsh retaliation to the demonstration planned by Revava. Fatah and Hamas organized processions of hundreds of people in Nablus, Hebron, Tul Karm and the Gaza Strip, threatening to call off the truce with Israel if the right-wing activists carry out their plans.

Abbas tried to calm the stormy Palestinian street on Friday and said "the Palestinian leadership held contacts with Israeli officials and with Mofaz, who made a commitment to make every effort to prevent such acts on the Temple Mount."