BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) - A Palestinian man was wounded by Israeli gunfire on Sunday while collecting scrap from a border zone in the Gaza Strip, another casualty in one of the blockaded enclave’s most dangerous ways to scrape a living.
Another man, Mahmoud Abu Arafa aged 19, was crushed to death under collapsing concrete while scavenging in the rubble east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, medical officials said.
The man who was shot was identified by his initials as K.A., 20 years old, by medics who say the Gaza Health Ministry ordered them not to give out names unless a shooting proved fatal.
Gaza medics say 60 scavengers have been wounded and two killed in the tense border zone since January 2009.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said two men were spotted inside the buffer zone within 300 m (yards) of the border security wall and fence, where they are not permitted.
“The soldiers fired warning shots and when they were not heeded they fired at the lower body and detected a hit.”
Thousands of Gazans, mainly young men and boys, go close to the zone daily to pick over the wreckage of factories and houses flattened by Israel in the past few years in its conflict with Islamist Hamas militants who control the enclave.
Most of the shootings occur near the Erez crossing point in the north of the Gaza Strip, where gleaners are a common sight among the steadily dwindling heaps of pancaked concrete that are all that remains of an industrial zone bombed by Israel.
Most load the scrap onto donkey carts and take it to be recycled for use in construction. Israel restricts import of steel and cement into Gaza to stop Hamas using it for military ends, and a cartload of rubble fetches 50 shekels ($15).
Since Israel’s three-week offensive in Dec 2008-Jan 2009, Israel troops have warned Palestinians not to come within a range of 300 m (yards) of the border fence or wall in all areas.
Some Palestinians with land in the border zone say they are unable to tend their fields without fear of being shot.
Adham Abu Selmeya, a spokesman of the Hamas-run medical service, told Reuters most of the casualties were shot in the legs, in northern areas where the border with Israel is formed by a high concrete wall with watchtowers and machineguns.
He said the Palestinians clearly did not pose real danger, otherwise the Israelis would not be firing at their legs.
Israel says Palestinian militants in the past have been detected trying to plant explosives in the buffer zone, in hopes of harming IDF patrols.
The unemployment rate in Gaza is roughly 50 percent.
“This is a suicide job, a deadly job,” said Mohammed Abu Halawa, who nearly lost a leg after being shot and wounded.
Halawa, 23 and the father of two girls, said he and other workers were collecting rubble from a former Israeli settlement in the north when soldiers opened fire.
“We ran away. And then we returned to fetch what we had collected. The Israeli soldiers opened fire again and I was hit,” said Halawa who needed metal implants to save the leg.
Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005. It has blockaded the territory since Hamas seized control in 2007, to prevent the militants obtaining arms or materials to use for military purposes, and to weaken support for the Islamists among Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
Despite Hamas’s 2010 pledge to clamp down on militants who persist in firing rockets and mortars into Israel, the Israeli army says about 180 have been fired this year. Israel forces usually retaliate, often with air strikes at military targets.
Halawa said rubble collectors were, naturally, afraid of being shot at in the border zone but had to run the risk.
“You need to raise a family, you need to feed your children and therefore, you have no choice, there is no other work,” said the former tailor.
“The job is tough,” said recycler Kamel Al-Shenbari, who earns 30 shekels a day at the work, or “enough to make a meal.”
Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Michael Roddy