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December 20, 2014

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Palestinian official: Blast kills Gaza militant

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian militant was killed in an explosion in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a health official said, prompting an Islamic group to threaten attacks against Israel.

The circumstances of the death were not immediately clear. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the man was killed in an Israeli attack. The Israeli military said it was not aware of any incident and denied responsibility.

Al-Kidra said Mohammed al-Ejlla, 33, was killed near the border with Israel. He said two teenagers were slightly wounded in the incident.

The Islamic Jihad militant group confirmed that al-Ejlla was one of its fighters in a text message. It said he was killed by an Israeli tank shell while on "a mission." It did not elaborate but threatened to respond to the incident.

Flare-ups along the border have been rare since Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers fought an eight-day battle in 2012, but violent incidents occur occasionally.

Also Wednesday, Israeli police said vandals damaged two cars and scrawled graffiti on a building in a Palestinian village in the West Bank. The vandalism comes a day after Palestinians briefly captured more than a dozen Israeli settlers who had attacked Palestinian farmers, witnesses said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the vandals wrote the words "price tag" and "Esh Kodesh" on a building. The settlers from Tuesday's incident came from the rogue Esh Kodesh settlement. Rosenfeld said police were looking into links between the two incidents.

In recent years, militant settlers often have responded to attempts by the Israeli military to remove parts of rogue settlements, or outposts, by attacking Palestinians and their property. The tactic is known as "price tag." Vandals also have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases with "price tag" graffiti.

In a related incident, the Israeli army said it was taking action after a video was released Wednesday appearing to show a group of masked settlers throwing rocks at Palestinians as soldiers stood by without stopping them. The video apparently shows the soldiers firing tear gas at Palestinians when they began throwing stones on the settlers.

Israeli rights group B'Tselem, which released the video, said the incident took place in the West Bank on Monday. The military said in a statement that soldiers did not act according to regulations and that "rules and regulations will be refreshed" to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Meanwhile in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank, Israeli troops demolished four shacks Wednesday, leaving 26 Palestinians homeless, said Othman Anous, mayor of a village near one of the demolished shacks. An Israeli military spokesman did not return a request for comment.

The Jordan Valley, which borders Jordan, has become a central issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with Israel calling for a continued Israeli presence in the strategic border region and Palestinians demanding no Israeli presence there in a future Palestinian state.

In another development Wednesday, seven activists in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement were granted early release from prison by Fatah's political rival, the Hamas government in control of Gaza, said Islam Shahwan, a spokesman of the Interior Ministry in Gaza.

The seven had been sentenced to terms of between one and two years for allegedly providing information about Hamas to the Fatah-led government in the West Bank. The releases were seen as part of an attempt by Hamas to initiate reconciliation talks with Fatah.

Fatah activists alleged that before Wednesday's release, Hamas was holding 43 Fatah activists in detention. In the West Bank, there are 10 Hamas activists in Palestinian prison. At the height of the arrest campaigns, dozens of Hamas activists were in Palestinian detention at any given time.

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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