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Israel firms up security as Gaza truce takes hold

November 23, 2012

An Israeli soldier points his gun at Palestinians who reached the fence between Israel and southern Gaza Strip November 23, 2012. -Reuters Photo

JERUSALEM: Israel restricted Palestinian access to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday and kept a tight grip on security as a first death tested a hard-won truce ending fighting in and around Gaza.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party prepared for a primary on Sunday amid signs its popularity was slipping among Israelis who would have preferred a ground invasion of the Hamas-controlled strip.

Tensions on the streets of annexed Arab east Jerusalem remained high a day after angry demonstrators stormed an Israeli police station in a bid to secure the release of a Palestinian woman who tried to stab a border guard.

The army reported arresting 28 suspected West Bank militants, including five members of Hamas, in the wake of a security sweep on Thursday in which 55 “terror operatives” were detained.

Israel decided on further precaution by barring Palestinians under the age of 40 from accessing the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews.

The mosque compound has been the focus of past clashes, and Israel sought to prevent any repetition that could jeopardise the truce ending eight days of fighting in which 166 Palestinians and six Israelis died.

The ceasefire was holding firmly despite a dozen rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza in the first post-truce hours and a warning from Netanyahu that he would resume the offensive if need be.

The Palestinians also reported their first post-conflict casualty at the hands of Israeli soldiers who reportedly opened fire on a group of farmers near the Gaza border on Friday.

“This is the first Israeli violation of the truce,” Sami Abu Zuhri of the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza told AFP.

Hamas “will raise this violation with Egyptian mediators to make sure that it does not happen again,” the spokesman added.

An Israeli army representative said the troops were forced to fire warning shots after hundreds of Palestinians attacked a border fence in an apparent attempt to take it down.

The Palestinian emergency services identified the victim as 21-year-old Abdelhadi Qdeih Anwar. They added that 19 other Palestinians suffered gunshot wounds in the village of Khuzaa. No rockets were fired in reprisal by Hamas.