Shelling kills Palestinian in Gaza ahead of border protest

Palestinians hold up a groom waiving a Palestinian flag near the border with IsraelImage copyright

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The border was already in a state of heightened tension ahead of planned Palestinian protests

A Palestinian farmer has been killed by Israeli artillery fire in Gaza, Palestinian officials say, hours before a major protest by Palestinians along the border was due to start.

The strike happened near the town of Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza.

The Israeli military said a tank had fired at two suspects after suspicious activity near a security fence.

Palestinians have pitched tents on the border for a six-week protest dubbed the Great March of Return.

Hamas, the militant group which dominates the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of trying to intimidate Palestinians by killing the farmer and by urging them not to participate in the protests.

The Israeli foreign ministry has said the protest is “deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation with Israel” and that “responsibility for any clashes lies solely with Hamas and other participating Palestinian organisations”.

Palestinian health officials named the dead man as 27-year-old Omar Samour and said a second man had been injured.

Witnesses say the two men were hit by tank fire while collecting parsley in a field, BBC Gaza producer Rushdi Abualouf reports.

The Israeli military oversees a no-go zone at the Gaza border, citing security concerns.

Rising tensions

By Sebastian Usher, Middle East editor, BBC World Service

Tents have been pitched by Palestinians in five locations on the edge of the buffer zone near the border. It is a sign that the protest, which has been dubbed the Great March of Return, is in it for the long haul.

Palestinian organisers – Hamas foremost among them – have urged tens of thousands of people to take part in the first protest, which falls on what Palestinians call Land Day – commemorating the killing of six unarmed protesters in 1976.

Israel is wary, as tensions have once again been rising along the border with Gaza. The military has deployed more than 100 sharpshooters, while the foreign ministry has made clear it does not believe that Hamas intends the protest to remain peaceful.

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Israeli soldiers on their side of the border with the northern Gaza Strip

All of this is happening in the shadow of the upcoming inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, which is set to happen in May – a development that may well help fuel the protest.

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