Three Palestinians have been injured by Israeli army tank fire that came after an Israeli civilian was lightly wounded by gunfire from Gaza along the border fence with Israel, officials said, in the first exchange of fire in months on the Gaza frontier.
The Israeli military said it responded to the gunfire which wounded the Israeli civilian on Wednesday with tank fire aimed at military positions manned by Hamas, which has ruled the besieged territory since 2007.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza said three Palestinians were wounded. Local media shared photos of the three men as they were transferred to a hospital in northern Gaza. It said they were all farmers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Israel announced measures aimed at improving life in the occupied West Bank after a rare meeting of top Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Israel has taken steps in recent months it says are aimed at easing tensions, even as attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians have been on the rise.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday approved a series of measures aimed at improving relations with the Palestinians after hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his home in Israel late on Tuesday.
It was the first time Abbas met an Israeli official in Israel since 2010. The two discussed security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which administers pockets of the occupied West Bank.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Israeli defence ministry said “the two men discussed security and civil matters” during the meeting, which, the Israeli media reported, took place at Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin in central Israel.
Gantz’s office said he approved “confidence-building measures”, including the transfer of tax payments to the PA, the authorisation of hundreds of permits for Palestinian merchants and VIPs, and approving residency status for thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on behalf of the PA as part of the interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s.
The tax transfers are a key source of funding for the cash-strapped Palestinians, but Israel has withheld funds over the PA’s payment of stipends to thousands of families that have had relatives killed, wounded or imprisoned in the conflict.
Israel says the payments incentivise “terrorism”, while the Palestinians say they provide crucial support to needy families.
Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, and over the years its policies have left an estimated tens of thousands of Palestinians without legal status, severely limiting their freedom of movement, even within the occupied territories. Israel granted legal status to some 4,000 Palestinians in October.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is opposed to Palestinian statehood. His government has shown no interest in reviving peace talks but has said it wants to reduce tensions by improving living conditions in the West Bank.
Tuesday night’s meeting was welcomed by the new American ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides. “May this meaningful diplomacy lead to many more such confidence building measures for the New Year. It benefits us all!” he tweeted.
But Hamas, in a statement, condemned the visit as going against the “national spirit of our Palestinian people”.
Gantz’s meeting with Abbas – the second in the six months since Bennett’s coalition government took office – also drew vocal criticism from Israeli opposition legislators. They fear the new government is preparing to make broad concessions to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians seek an independent state that includes all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas’s forces in 2007, a year after the group won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since then.
The Gaza frontier has been mostly quiet since Israel carried out an 11-day offensive on Gaza in May — their fourth since Hamas took over Gaza. At least 232 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel were killed.