Israel in Efforts to Keep Gaza Calm After Killing 'Misidentified' Hamas Member

28-year-old Mahmoud al-Adham was trying to turn away Palestinians approaching the Strip's border with Israel when he was shot

A Palestinian wounded by Israeli fire, July 2019
AFP

The Israeli army on Thursday shot a Hamas member acting to turn away Palestinians who approached the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, prompting threats of retaliation from militant groups in the Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that a force opened fire toward the 28-year-old Mahmoud al-Adham due to a "misidentification."

Haaretz Weekly Episode 33Haaretz

According to the military, "Israel Defense Forces troops arrived at the scene and identified the Hamas member as an armed terrorist. They carried out a shooting that stemmed from a misunderstanding. The incident will be investigated."

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Mahmoud al-Adham

Hamas's military wing said that "we are assessing the situation and stress that we will not let this incident pass by without a response." Meanwhile Islamic Jihad called al-Adham's death a "grave escalation" and threatened to retaliate.

Mediation attempts between Israel and Hamas have already initiated following the incident, and ahead of Friday's weekly border protests, but the Defense Ministry remains uncertain whether or not Palestinian factions will still choose to respond.

Israeli forces along the border have been instructed to exercise extreme caution out of fear Hamas will attempt to harm soldiers or military vehicles operating near the fence.

However, assessments within the Strip anticipate that neither side is interested in breaking the period of relative calm and the understandings reached through UN and Egyptian brokering. Talal Abu Zarifa, a member of the committee organizing the March of Return border protests, told Haaretz that the fact that Israel issued an official statement regarding its error is a sign of restraint.

The committee called for continued restraint in weekly border protests and asked that demonstrators refrain from approaching the border fence in order to avoid confrontation with Israeli soldiers. 

Shortly after being shot east of Beit Hanoun in the northern Strip, Gaza's Health Ministry reported that al-Adham died of his wounds.

A Hamas source told Haaretz that al-Adham was shot when he was chasing after two young Palestinians who approached the border fence in order to stop them from crossing over into Israeli territory, in order to maintain the understandings reached between Israel and Hamas. 

Al-Adham was a member of Hamas' military wing, which accused Israel of intentionally opening fire to "hurt one of our fighters who was carrying out his job in preventing [Palestinians] from breaching the border fence."

The Israeli army confirmed this, stating that "an initial investigation shows that a Hamas member approached the border fence area following two Palestinians who were moving close to the fence."

The military's confirmation comes after it initially said that it fired toward armed individuals who approached the border fence, but didn't know of any killed Hamas members. 

In addition, an Egyptian security delegation arrived in Ramallah on Thursday for talks with senior Fatah officials and the Palestinian Authority.

Authority news agency Wafa, the talks are to focus on Egypt's efforts to promote internal Palestinian reconciliation in the midst of an economic crisis due to cuts Israel made to its tax revenues.

Last month, Israeli army troops mistakenly fired at Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank city of Nablus, wounding one. In that incident too, the army admitted a mistake in identification. At the time, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh condemned the incident, warning of "dangerous escalation" on Israel's part, threatening Palestinian sovereignty. 

The incident comes amid a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and a period of relative quiet. The reason for the lull in aggression is likely Israel's decision to increase the number of Palestinian laborers from the Strip who are allowed to work in the country.

Israel has also expanded the fishing zone off Gaza to 15 nautical miles from the shore, in a gesture meant to quell tensions which comes as "part of the civilian policy to prevent a humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip," as stated by the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories.