JERUSALEM – The Israeli army said its troops fatally shot four heavily armed Palestinians on the Gaza border early Saturday, alleging one of them had crossed and thrown a grenade at soldiers.
Separately, security forces said they had arrested two Palestinians suspected of killing an off-duty Israeli soldier in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.
There have been frequent clashes along the Gaza border since the Palestinians began organizing regular mass protests there in March 2018. But Saturday’s exchange was unusual because of the weaponry the Israeli army said was involved on the Palestinian side.
“The terrorists were equipped with AK-47 assault rifles, RPG grenade launchers and hand grenades,” an army statement said.
A spokeswoman said the army “opened fire after one of the terrorists scaled the barrier and hurled a grenade at the soldiers.”
No Israeli casualties were reported.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the four Palestinians were all wearing “uniforms” — without elaborating — and were equipped with food and a medical kit as well as the rifles.
A Hamas statement condemned Israel’s killing of the four Palestinians as a “crime.”
But the Islamist rulers of the Palestinian enclave made no claim of responsibility and did not say whether the four were members of its armed wing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his government’s stance that Hamas is responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.
“Israel will continue to act to thwart infiltrations of its territory and attacks on our citizens,” he said in a statement.
Blockade spurs protests
Palestinian demonstrations at the border demanding the lifting of Israel’s blockade, in effect for more than a decade, have often led to violence and a deadly response from the Israeli army.
At least 301 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since March 2018, the majority during the demonstrations.
Seven Israelis have also been killed.
The protests have declined in intensity in recent months following a truce brokered by the United Nations and Egypt, under which Israel agreed to ease aspects of its blockade in return for calm.
Sporadic violence has continued but the Israeli army has said most of it consisted of lone-wolf attacks.
Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major flare-up in the Palestinian territories as Israel prepares for a snap general election on Sept. 17, its second election this year.
But he is likely to face political pressure to act firmly against any significant attack.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
On Aug. 1, a Palestinian seeking to avenge his brother’s death by Israeli fire entered Israel from Gaza armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand grenades. He was killed and three Israeli soldiers wounded, the army said.
The latest killings on the Gaza border came days after off-duty soldier Dvir Sorek was found dead “with stabbing marks” near the West Bank settlement of Migdal Oz.
Israel’s domestic intelligence agency said Saturday that two Palestinians suspected of killing him had been arrested.
“After an intensive intelligence operation by security services, the Israeli police and army arrested suspects” in his slaying, Shin Bet said in a statement.
The killing of the 19-year-old, between Bethlehem and the flashpoint city of Hebron, further hiked Israeli-Palestinian tensions ahead of the elections.
The Israeli army said separately that 100 “rioters” had attacked security forces with rocks as they apprehended “the terrorist squad” suspected of killing him.
Netanyahu commended the swift arrests. “In recent years our forces have laid hands on all of the Palestinian murderers who have attacked Israelis, and today they have done so again,” he said.