Israeli soldiers opened fire at two Palestinians near the border in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday after it was suspected they were laying an explosive charge next to the fence, according to an Israeli army statement.
Gaza's health ministry said two wounded men were taken to Khan Yunis's European Hospital for treatment. One died, later identified by the Islamic Jihad organization as Muhammad Ali Anam, 27, a fighter in the Khan Yunis battalion of their Al Quds military wing.
A video taken by bystanders in Gaza and shared widely on social media shows an Israeli bulldozer, escorted by a tank, rushing Palestinians attempting to take away the wounded. Its mechanical arm eventually holds the apparently lifeless body of one of the men up by his clothing.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett later confirmed the bulldozer had been used to "collect" the bodies.
A later statement from the Israeli military said it had thwarted an attack carried out by "terrorists affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations."
Attached to the statement was a video taken from an IDF observation post that shows two men laying a heavy object near the border fence. A caption accompanying the video reads: "Laying an explosive charge on the border fence, 23.02.2020."
"Israel intended to kill an unarmed young man, in front of the cameras of the whole world," Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said, while Islamic Jihad promised retaliation. The spokesman for Islamic Jihad's military wing said of the incident: "The enemy forces' infiltration into the territory of the Strip and savagely insulting one of our fighters constitutes blatant aggression, and Israel must bear responsibility for this aggression."
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The NGO Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights urged the military advocate general to open a criminal investigation, saying the action seen in the video violates international agreements, which would define it as a war crime.
Two local photographers told Haaretz the confrontation happened inside Palestinian territory. Following the shooting, dozens of Palestinians gathered at the scene. Witnesses said the Israeli army fired at the lower bodies of those approaching the bulldozer.
After the video grabbed the headlines in Israeli media, Defense Minister Bennett responded to the criticism on Twitter, expressing his fatigue with "the left's vicious criticism of the "inhumanity" of the use of a bulldozer to bring back the body of a terrorist who tried to murder (!) Israelis."
"Gentlemen, bleeding hearts: You are not humane! Hamas holds the bodies of Hadar and Oron," the Yamina leader added, referring to IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war and whose remains are held in Gaza.
"I back the IDF that killed the terrorist and collected the body," he concluded, "this is how it should be done, and this is how it will be done."
Joint List Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman described the Israeli army's operation as follows: "They steal a body, abuse it with a bulldozer and still argue that the army is the most moral in the world. Since Bennett took office as defense minister, hording bodies to bargain with is Israel's declared policy." She described Bennett as "the minister of death and brutality."
Another Joint List lawmaker, Ofer Cassif, said: "Abducting a body is the nauseating, blood-thirsty act of vampirism. Here is what Netanyahu has to offer: "Siege, killing and abducting bodies. We need to put an end to their celebration of death."
Gazans issued increased permits
Last week, Israel boosted the number of work and trade permits for Gazans to 7,000, the highest number since Hamas came to power in 2007, and expanded its fishing grounds to the Gaza Strip by 15 nautical miles.
This came after a tit-for-tat between Gaza militants and the IDF following the release of the Trump peace plan threatened to convert a relative calm into a full-blown conflict.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett said then that Israel might launch a major military operation in Gaza in the near future. Netanyahu, speaking at a cabinet meeting, said he won’t accept “any aggression from Gaza.”
Israel's policy is to hold Hamas accountable for any violent actions carried out from the Gaza Strip – even if it comes from other movements, like Islamic Jihad.
The unprecedented ease on restrictions on the blockaded coastal enclave comes amid ongoing political deadlock in Israel, which some analysts believe Hamas is using to its advantage.
Earlier this month, Israel's intelligence chief Yossi Cohen reportedly visited Doha secretly to convince Qatar to continue its support for the strip, despite ongoing tensions.