Hamas accused Israel of violating the shaky two-day-old ceasefire in Gaza on Friday after an Israeli soldier shot dead a Palestinian man close to the security fence that encloses the territory. Anwar Qdeih, 23, was said by a relative to have been shot in the head as he tried to place a Hamas flag on the fence near the town of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.
The relative said an Israeli soldier had fired in the air three times before firing the fatal shot. At least 19 other Palestinians were wounded in the incident. The Israeli military, which regards the zone close to the fence as a no-go area, said it was investigating. A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces said soldiers had opened fire after large numbers of Palestinians attempted to breach the fence.
"About 300 Palestinians tried to get close to the security fence. They engaged in violent activity and damaged the fence," she said. The episode illustrated vividly the fragility of Wednesday's truce that ended eight days of clashes in which 166 Palestinians and six Israelis died.
Hours before the shooting, Israeli forces arrested 28 Palestinians, including five MPs affiliated to Hamas, in the West Bank. Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, reacted to the shooting with relative restraint, accusing Israel of breaking the ceasefire terms but saying it would raise the matter only with Egypt, which played the leading role in broking the truce.
"This is the first Israeli violation of the truce," a spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said. "[Hamas] will raise this violation with Egyptian mediators to make sure that it does not happen again."
Ismail Haniya, Gaza's de facto prime minister, has depicted the truce as a major triumph for Hamas and urged militant factions to observe it. The cessation of hostilities that lifted the immediate threat of an Israeli land invasion prompted wild street celebrations inside Gaza on Wednesday night.
The ceasefire has been greeted less enthusiastically inside Israel, where many view it as giving respite to militant groups that will sooner or later resume rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities.
An opinion poll on Friday suggested that nearly half of all Israelis supported a continuation of military action and pointed to a decline in support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party ahead of a general election scheduled for January 22. Although Likud and its ally Israel Beiteinu are still on course to emerge as the largest bloc, Netanyahu has been criticised for bowing to international criticism by ending the Gaza campaign too early.
The impression of a prime minister constrained by American pressure gained ground on Friday when it emerged that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had warned Netanyahu against punishing the Palestinian Authority if - as seems likely - it presses ahead with its bid for United Nations recognition on November 29.