GAZA CITY: Two Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday with authorities in the Hamas-run territory blaming an Israeli strike, but Israel’s military immediately denying the claim.
The circumstances of the incident, which occurred near Gaza’s northern border with Israel, were initially unclear.
Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra told AFP the two men were killed “in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza after an Israeli strike targeted a motorcycle.”
The Israeli army immediately denied this, saying in a statement “contrary to Palestinian reports earlier today, the (army) did not attack in the northern Gaza Strip.”
Qudra named the two men as Hussein Ghazi Nasrallah and Mustafa Al-Sultan, both in their 20s.
Family members at the hospital where the bodies were taken told AFP the two men were members of Islamic Jihad, a militant group that fought alongside Hamas in the last war with Israel in 2014.
The deaths came amid tensions between Palestinians and Israeli forces following US President Donald Trump’s announcement he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital.
Four Gazans, including two Hamas militants, have died since the announcement last Wednesday. Two were killed in clashes, while two others died in Israeli airstrikes in response to rocket fire from Gaza.
Meanwhile, protests in the Middle East continued over Trump’s decision.
While tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Lebanon on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met EU foreign ministers in Brussels, declaring that the move he has lauded as historic “makes peace possible.”
He also said he expected “all or most” European countries would follow the US — but the 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy head Federica Mogherini gave him a stern rebuff, telling him to “keep his expectations for others.”
In Cairo, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced Trump’s decision as “destabilising” while calling for a resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks.
And after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara later Monday, Putin said the Trump declaration could “derail” peace efforts.
At a joint press conference, Erdogan said he and Putin had taken a similar approach on the issue, while accusing Israel of continuing to “add fuel to the flames.”
Erdogan has been perhaps the most outspoken of global leaders in warning about the consequences of Trump’s move.
Earlier Monday, he said in a speech in Ankara that Washington was a “partner to bloodshed.”
Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, organized a massive demonstration in Beirut.
In Tehran, hundreds of Iranian conservatives rallied against Israel and said Trump had hastened its demise by his decision.
In Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
“We came here against Trump’s decision and we want to send a message that Jerusalem is and will stay our capital, and we will stay to defend it,” one protester in a black ski mask told AFP.
There were also low-level clashes in Hebron and the Gaza Strip.
About 27 Palestinians were wounded by live fire or rubber bullets throughout the day, the Red Crescent said.
Palestinian demonstrations have declined in number and intensity since reaching a peak on Friday, but there are concerns they will again increase later this week.
Late Monday, at least two rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, with one intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system.
In response, Israel’s army said it hit Hamas military positions in the strip with tank and aircraft fire.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.
Palestinian leaders are outraged by Trump’s move, but they also face difficult choices in how to respond since they rely on US aid and would like to salvage the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.
President Mahmud Abbas will refuse to meet US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region later this month, Palestinian officials say, a move that led Washington to accuse Abbas of “walking away” from a chance to discuss peace.
Abbas on Monday met Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a key US ally in the region, ahead of a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said El-Sisi reaffirmed Cairo’s “firm” position on the need to maintain the legal and historical status of Jerusalem and support for an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Netanyahu, who has been dogged by corruption investigations against him at home, has lauded Trump’s declaration.