Gaza protest toll rises to three: ministry

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot next to burning tires during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 11 August 2018
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Gaza protest toll rises to three: ministry

  • 131 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli bullets during Friday’s protests
  • The Israeli army said a grenade was thrown at troops guarding the border with northern Gaza without causing any casualties

GAZA CITY: A 40-year-old Palestinian hit by Israeli fire on the Gaza border died of his wounds on Saturday, taking the death toll from protests the previous day to three, the territory’s health ministry said.
He was among at least 131 Palestinians wounded by Israeli bullets during Friday’s protests, even as an informal truce ending a deadly flare-up between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and the Israeli army largely held.
In all 307 Palestinians were wounded on Friday, some by tear gas, including two journalists and five medics, the health ministry in the coastal enclave said.
It identified the man who died Saturday as Ahmed Abu Lulu, saying he was shot in a section of the border east of the southern city of Rafah, where the two other Palestinians were also killed.
The ministry had earlier identified the other two as Ali Al-Alul, 55, and volunteer medic Abdullah Al-Qatati, 21.
Funerals for all three Palestinians took place on Saturday and were attended by thousands of mourners.
Doctors and first responders were among the mourners, in a show of solidarity for Qatati.
On Friday, a few thousand protesters gathered at various locations along the border, setting tires ablaze and throwing stones, but in smaller numbers than in previous weeks, AFP correspondents said.
The Israeli army said a grenade was thrown at troops without causing any casualties, and that soldiers responded with tank fire at two Hamas posts.
But the border was otherwise calm after a reported deal to end all rocket fire into Israel and air strikes on Gaza appeared to take effect around midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday.
There was no official confirmation of the truce from Israel or Hamas, but there were no fresh air strikes on Friday.
Thursday had seen extensive Israeli raids in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies on Wednesday night.
It was one of the most serious escalations since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of rising tensions.
Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter. Seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire.
The European Union said Gaza and Israel were “dangerously close” to a new conflict and called for urgent efforts to protect civilians.
At least 168 Palestinians have been killed since the border protests began on March 30, with most succumbing to Israeli fire during demonstrations. Others have died in air strikes.
Over the same period, one Israeli soldier has been shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
Separately on Saturday, the Israeli army carried out four drone attacks, targeting Palestinians who were flying balloons carrying incendiary devices across the border into Israel, the military said.
Two Palestinians were injured, one of them seriously, Gaza’s health ministry said.
Israeli soldiers also opened fire at some 50 Palestinian fishing boats that sailed off Gaza’s northern coast on Saturday to protest Israel’s sea and land blockade of the enclave, the fishermen’s union said.
It said 200 Palestinians were on the boats but that no one was hurt in the incident.
Israel, which has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza for a decade, prevents boats from the enclave sailing further than six nautical miles offshore.
In July it further reduced that zone to three miles after scores of kites carried firebombs across the border to burn Israeli farmland.


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 42 min 3 sec ago
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.