Gazans bid final farewell to 15-year-old Palestinian killed by Israeli artillery fire

Crowded masses marched on Wednesday in the Rafah governorate in the southern Gaza Strip for the funeral of 15-year-old Yousif Shaaban Abu Athra, who was killed before dawn on Wednesday by an Israeli artillery shell in eastern Rafah.

The funeral procession set off from Abu Athra’s family home in al-Shabura refugee camp in central Rafah to the al-Awda mosque, where mourners performed a final prayer for the teen before making their way to a nearby cemetery to lay Abu Athra to rest.

The Ministry of Education in Gaza released a statement condemning “the Israeli crime” of killing the teen, who was a 10th grade student at the Muhammad Yousif al-Najar school in Rafah.

The ministry demanded that the international community and all human rights organizations “stand in the face of Israeli aggression,” and stressed “the necessity of prosecuting the Israeli occupation for its crimes that violate all international laws and regulations.”

Locals reported at the time that two other Palestinians were injured during the shelling that killed Abu Athra, while an Israeli army spokesperson said that Israeli forces had “detected three suspects” near Israel’s military border fence in southern Gaza, and that Israeli forces responded by “firing with a tank toward the suspect,” adding that “one hit was confirmed.”

According to Israel news site Ynet, the Israeli army was investigating whether the three Palestinians “were trying to plant an explosive device.”

Cross-border tensions between Israel and Gaza have been running high recently, following a number of airstrikes and shelling by Israeli forces and shooting and rocket fire from Gaza, that have left at least 13 Palestinians injured since the beginning of the year.

The death of 15-year-old Abu Athra marked the fourth time a Palestinian was killed in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of 2017 as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two Palestinians were killed and five were injured as a result of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a smuggling tunnel between Egypt and Gaza in February, in which the Israeli army denied involvement.

Palestinian fisherman Muhammad al-Hissi went missing in January after an encounter with Israeli forces, with his family later announcing his death. However, his body has yet to be recovered. Locals told Ma’an at the time of the incident that Israeli forces purposely attacked and sunk al-Hissi’s boat.

Israeli forces killed eight Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave over the course of 2016. Among them were two Palestinian children, aged nine and six-years-old, who were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

The Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights expressed concern in February that Israel could be leading up to a wide-scale military offensive in the small Palestinian territory.

The rights group called on the international community to “act promptly against Israel’s military escalation, to fulfill their obligations to protect civilians, and ensure respect for the rules of international law,” stressing that “acting before a full-scale military bombardment is launched is crucial to ensuring the protection of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.”

Despite accusations from Israeli army officials that the ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip are in response to rockets fired from Hamas forces in Gaza, Hamas has yet to claim responsibility for any military action from Gaza against Israel since a ceasefire the 2014 war.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya reiterated earlier this month that the Hamas movement “is not seeking new military confrontations with the Israeli occupation.”

“We don’t seek war, and we are committed to the ceasefire agreement of 2014.” However, he went on to warn that Hamas would defend themselves if Israel waged war on the coastal enclave. “We are not war fanatics, but we are a bereaved and oppressed people who resist occupation,” al-Hayya said.