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Defense Ministry employee killed from Palestinian sniper fire on Gaza border
By YAAKOV LAPPIN, HERB KEINON AND JPOST.COM STAFF
24/12/2013
Palestinian sniper fire kills Salah Shukri Abu Latyef who was working on Gaza border fence.
 
A civilian working for the Defense Ministry was shot and killed on Tuesday from Palestinian sniper fire, while working to fix damages caused to the Israeli-Gaza border fence caused by the recent winter storm.

Salah Shukri Abu Latyef, 22, from Rahat, was working for Shabbat Drilling operating a tractor at the Gaza border when he was shot and struck in the center of his chest by a Palestinian sniper, according to the army's assessment.

He was airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba where he later succumbed to his wounds.

Israeli media reported that the Palestinian militant group Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the shooting.

"The incident occurred very close to the border," one security source said.

"This was his first day working on the Gaza Strip border and unfortunately it was also his last day of life," Latyef's cousin said.

An IDF spokesman said that the military had limited the access of farmers working in the immediate vicinity of the fence in the aftermath of the attack.

Israel clamped restrictions in the past on Palestinians working inside the Gaza Strip near the security fence to prevent exactly the type of sniper incident that killed an Israeli defense ministry worker on Tuesday, government officials said.

The easing of those restrictions were part of the understandings brokered by Egypt that brought an end in November 2012 to Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the attack a "very grave incident" that Israel would not let go unanswered. This attack, unlike the other terror attacks this week, elicited a quick and immediate response from Netanyahu.

"Our policy up until now has been to prevent beforehand and to react with force, and this is how we will act now as well," he said.

Government sources said Netanyahu viewed this incident as particularly serious both within the context of the string of other attacks this week – the foiled bus bomb in Bat Yam, the rocket fire from Gaza and the knifing of a Border Patrolman outside of Jerusalem – and also because it was such a clear violation of the understandings that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense.

According to those understandings, Israel eased restriction on Gazans working close to security fence that were clamped on the area because of security concerns.

Netanyahu made his comment as he was just about to fly back to Jerusalem from Sderot, where he went Tuesday to dedicate the new Tel Aviv-Sderot train line.

Netanyahu said that Israel would not tolerate a "drizzle" of attacks from Gaza that would "turn into a storm."

Since Operation Pillar of Defense last year, he said the south has been quieter than it has been for more than a decade. "I am committed to maintaining that quiet, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is our policy."

The cross-border shooting comes after a spate of attempts by Palestinians to plant explosives along the security fence and to damage the barrier in recent days.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said there was "no direct relation" between terrorist attacks in Israel over the past two days and the cross-border shooting attack.

"We view take a most severe view of them. In Gaza, Hamas is sovereign, and we see it as being responsible for today's shooting from the Strip and rocket launches over the past today at Israel. We will not allow a disruption to life in the South, and we will respond decisively and painfully to attacks on our sovereignty and against our civilians and soldiers," the defense minister added.

He advised Hamas "not to test our patience," calling on Gaza's ruling regime to exercise its authority on the ground to prevent further attacks on Israel by other organizations.

"If there won't be quiet in Israel, there won't be quiet in Gaza either," Ya'alon warned.

"Terrorism incidents are the continuation of previous attacks, most of which are the result of a lone attacker, or one who has been influenced by the atmosphere of incitement and hatred that exists in the Palestinian Authority against Israel. This is an intolerable situation from our perspective, and despite the difficulties in dealing with a lone individual incited to murder Jews, we will act with a resolute hand and in various ways to harm anyone who tries to carry out terrorist attacks," Ya'alon pledged.

As long as the PA continues to incite against Israel and its civilians, and fails to promote a culture of peace, Israel will have to deal with attacks that result from this, he added. Ya'alon sent his condolences to the family of the fatally wounded civilian, and wished the policeman stabbed on Monday a swift recovery.

Ya'alon ordered the closing of the Kerem Shalom border crossing on Tuesday evening, following escalation on the Gaza border.

President Shimon Peres said that "Israel will ensure its own security" and advised Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to stop aggressions against Israel.

"If Gaza wants it to be quiet, it must remain quiet, otherwise it will suffer the consequences of the unrest many times over," Peres said.

"Gaza is not under any occupation. It is playing with fire. The world will not continue supporting Gaza if it continues killing innocent people," the president added.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the attack "proves that Hamas and its satellite organizations are determined to harm Israeli citizens without any connection to their religion or ideology."

"The trickle of attacks must stop and life near Gaza must be stable and safe," Edelstein added, sending his condolences to the victim's family.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said he is certain that the recent wave of terror is meant to sabotage peace talks and the possibility of a two-state solution.

"We will not give in to terror and will not let it win or determine the State of Israel's interests," Herzog stated. "I trust that the IDF and security forces will act against terror."

However, some on the right did not share Herzog's determination to continue negotiating.

"The deterioration in security shows once again that the Palestinians don't want peace," Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ofir Akunis said. "This is a direct result of the Palestinian incitement against Israel."

Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said the next release of terrorists from prison, which is planned for next week, should be canceled, calling it "absurd."

"Day after day Israeli residents' lives are endangered and the government continues blindly giving in to the demands of the Palestinian Authority and the Americans. We should put an end to this farce. As long as terror against Israel continues, we cannot release even one terrorist," Slomiansky stated.

In a separate incident, a Palestinian youth who approached the fence on the border with northern Gaza entered the closed security zone, and ignored calls by soldiers to vacate the area. He was shot in the leg and evacuated to a Gazan hospital by the Red Crescent.

Lahav Harkov and Yasser Okbi contributed to this report.
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