Israel troops kill Gazan who breached border to torch sniper post: army

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli troops on Monday shot and killed a Palestinian and wounded another who were part of a group of four that broke through the Gaza border into Israel and tried to torch an army sniper position, the military said.

It was the latest deadly encounter on the Israel-Gaza border in which Gaza medical officials say at least 136 Palestinians from the Strip have been killed since weekly Friday protests began on March 30.

No Israelis were reported hurt in the incident near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip during which the troops said they heard shots fired in their direction, the army said.

“The terrorists crossed the security fence equipped with cutters and combustible materials before attempting to light an unmanned snipers’ post,” a military statement said.

“Troops spotted the infiltration, monitored the incident and pursued the terrorists while firing toward them... One terrorist was killed and another was evacuated for medical treatment.”

A third person was apprehended and taken for questioning and a fourth fled back to the Gaza Strip, a military spokesman said.

Palestinians say the weekly protests are a popular outpouring of rage against Israel by refugees demanding the right to return to homes their families fled or were driven from on Israel’s founding 70 years ago.

Israel says the demonstrations are organized by the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and denies Israel’s right to exist. Israel says Hamas has intentionally provoked the violence, a charge Hamas denies.

Tens of thousands took part when the protests were launched months ago. The number has dropped significantly in recent weeks and only a few thousand have participated more recently.

Israel also accuses Gaza militants of sending balloons and kites with flaming tails carried by the wind across the border daily. Thousands of hectares of farmland and wooded areas in Israel have been destroyed by fire, Israel said.

Israel’s deadly tactics have drawn international condemnation, although support has come from its main ally, the United States, which like Israel, has cast blame on Hamas. Israel says Hamas has stoked the violence to deflect domestic opinion from Gaza’s energy shortages and faltering economy.

Israel maintains a naval blockade of Gaza and tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods at its land borders. Egypt has also kept its own Gaza frontier largely closed. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures, which have deepened economic hardship.

Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by William Maclean