Tension High in Gaza After Arab Girl Fatally Shot

Tension is running high in the Gaza Strip following the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Arab girl Tuesday and the wounding of two others Wednesday in clashes between rock-throwing students and armed Jewish settlers.

Six settlers were detained for questioning Tuesday and four remained in custody Wednesday in connection with the shooting death of Intissar El Atar, a high school student in Deir El Balah, a normally quiet town in the southern end of the Gaza Strip. The four are expected to be arraigned in court Thursday.

The settlers insist they fired only warning shots into the air when their Tel Aviv-bound vehicle was stopped by a road block on the main street of Deir El Balah and they were “attacked” by about 50 girls from the nearby school. They said the girls continued to throw rocks at soldiers and police who rushed to the scene.

A similar clash occurred Wednesday just off the main road in Gaza. Settlers claimed they were forced to open fire when attacked with rocks at a roadblock, but only fired into the air. They could not explain how two girls sustained bullet wounds. One, hit in the stomach, was hospitalized in Ashkelon. Her condition was described as “serious.”

Military authorities moved quickly to restore order in the territory. A curfew was imposed on the Deir El Balah area. Two local schools were ordered closed. The Islamic University in Gaza, often a source of unrest, was shut down voluntarily by its administration until the end of the week.

Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, commander of the southern region of the Israel Defense Force, met with leaders of the Arab community and representatives of Jewish settlers in an effort to contain the tension. He also met with Mayor Samir El Azaize of Deir El Balah and told the family of the slain girl that the security forces would do everything possible to find the killer.

While it remains unclear who fired the fatal and wounding shots, Reuven Rosenblat, chairman of the regional council of Jewish settlements, implied Tuesday that the use of deadly force was justified.

“If the rock-throwing youth know that nothing can be done against them, they will continue throwing stones until they kill us,” he said on an army radio interview.

On Monday in the West Bank, Israel Defense Force troops wounded with gunshots an Arab youth from the Balat refugee camp near Nablus while dispersing a crowd that had pelted them with stones. According to IDF sources, dozens of youths from the camp attacked soldiers and police on a neighboring highway.

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