A Palestinian farmer was killed by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, hours before Palestinians were to stage mass sit-ins along the border with Israel, a health official and a witness said. Ahead of the protests, called for by Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, Israel's military said it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces, and paramilitary border police units that specialize in riot control, the AP reports. Hamas said the activities would be peaceful and the chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel wants to avoid violence, though dozens of protesters clashed with troops along the border later in the day.
However, previous protests near the border fence have turned deadly, with Israeli soldiers firing live bullets at Palestinians burning tires, throwing stones, or hurling firebombs. Manelis said the military will not allow the crowds to breach the fence or damage military infrastructure. In Friday's incident, the Israeli military said troops directed tank fire toward two suspects who approached the fence along the southern Gaza Strip and acted suspiciously. It said it is aware of reports that a Palestinian was killed. The sit-ins are seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break a crippling, decade-old Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt that has made it increasingly difficult for the Islamic militant group to govern.