RAFAH - IDF soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian youngsters Saturday in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border.
The Palestinians were shot after approaching the border area, the army said. However, eyewitnesses said the boys were playing soccer at the time of the shooting.
Following the incident, Palestinians fired more than 30 mortar shells at Gaza Strip settlements and IDF posts.
No injuries were reported, but one house was damaged.
Hospital officials in Rafah said two of the youngsters killed were 15-years-old and the other one was 14. The three were identified as Khaled Ghanem, Ashraf Musa, and Hassan Abu Zaid, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
IDF soldiers spotted five figures crawling from Rafah toward Egypt around 5 p.m. Saturday, the army said. Three of them were shot after starting to run, the IDF said. Palestinian security picked up the other two youths, who admitted to being arms smugglers, the army said.
Eyewitness Ali Abu Zayid, 22, said: "A group of youths were playing in an open strech near the fence (close to the Philadelphi Route), and then the ball flew towards the fence. They raced after it and then we heard shots.”
Palestinian witnesses told Ynet that the distance between the youngsters and the IDF soldiers that shot them was not great. According to them, it was impossible not to see that the children were just playing a game.
“They shouted like we always do during soccer games, and the soldiers saw us playing, that we are shouting, but they opened fire anyway and the three fell to the ground,” one witness said.
Following the shooting incident, Palestinians in Khan Yunis fired mortar shells at Israeli military posts. No one was hurt and there was no property damage. The IDF blamed the attack on the Popular Resistance Committees, which a few hours earlier detonated a bomb in southern Gaza.
At Abu-Yusef al-Najar Hospital in Khan Yunis hundreds of relatives of the three killed boys gathered and Palestinian groups promised to avenge their deaths.
Will Palestinians respond with Qassams?
In response to the incident, the Islamic Jihad announced it is no longer committed to the intra-Palestinian truce. The terror group said its members were instructed to “deliver their blows and exact a heavy price from Israel.”
However, a senior Islamic Jihad leader later denied the reports and said the group was still committed to the cease-fire.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said the incident marked a deliberate Israeli violation of the current truce.
“The Palestinians who were killed were unarmed children and did not constitute a threat to Israel,” he said.
The Palestinians are continuing their efforts to cross into Egypt and infiltrate into Israel despite Israeli protests, army sources said. Meanwhile, Palestinians are continuing their efforts to smuggle arms into the Strip, the sources added.
Meanwhile, the IDF has recently changed its rules of engagement in Gaza in a bid to avoid hitting innocent civilians.
In recent months, Palestinian terrorists responded to shooting incidents in Gaza by firing Qassam rockets at Israeli communities.
The last Qassam rocket was launched at the southern town of Sderot Thursday. The rocket landed at an open space and did not cause injuries or damages.