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Killing of Palestinian sniper in Gaza raises questions of Israeli assassination

‘We were expecting him to be killed any moment,’ says brother of 27-year-old Ahmed al-Sarhi killed in Gaza on Tuesday
Abu Alabed al-Sarhi, Ahmed's brother, sits next to his body at the funeral (MEE/Mohamed Asad)

GAZA CITY – The killing on Tuesday of a 27-year-old Gaza man who was the apparent target of several assassination attempts in recent years has raised questions amongst Gazans about whether Israeli security forces deliberately targeted him.

Ahmed Sharif al-Sarhi, a member of the Al Sabireen Movement, an armed resistance group based in Gaza, was killed on Tuesday when he was shot with seven rounds, according to Al Watan Voice daily, fired from an Israeli tank, near the Israel-Gaza border fence, just east of Al Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. The bullets hit his chest, killing him instantly.

Fourteen others were injured, mainly by live bullets.

After Sarhi’s killing, the Israeli army issued a statement, saying that members of the Border Police, the Israeli army and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal secret service, had launched a pre-emptive attack on “a Palestinian cell” that was behind recent sniper attacks on soldiers patrolling the border fence.

“The IDF will not tolerate attempts to harm Israeli citizens and soldiers and will continue to operate against every attempted terror attack on the State of Israel,” the statement reportedly said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Israeli military’s Gaza Division Headquarters in the western Negev and said that the situation at the border was “under control”.

Netanyahu’s comments, paired with a warning the army gave to Israeli farmers on Tuesday to keep away from the 50km border, have raised local suspicions that al-Sarhi may have been specifically targeted on Tuesday.

Many media outlets in Gaza reported the death of al-Sarhi and described the killing as an “assassination”. Gaza-based daily Felesten published a report claiming that al-Sarhi’s mobile phone was how Israel allegedly tracked and assassinated him. Egypt's Youm7 newspaper also described the killing as “assassination”.

Al-Sarhi's family have also said that he survived at least three assassination attempts since 2008 and thought he was being followed by Israeli drones shortly before his killing.

Mysterious life of al-Sarhi

For the past three weeks, as protests, clashes and attacks have escalated in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gazans have turned out to demonstrate against settler practices and the blockade on the Strip.

Last Friday, two Palestinians were killed and at least 100 people were injured when Israeli forces opened fire at demonstrators in Gaza Strip.

To most Gazans, Sarhi is an unknown entity. He was once a member of Islamic Jihad, but after a disagreement with the group, joined the armed group known as Al Sabireen (Arabic for ‘The Patient’) Movement for the Victory of Palestine.

Sarhi went on to establish the leadership of the group’s military wing, which is in part why people believe he may have been targeted by Israel.

Local opponents accuse Al Sabireen, which has become more active in recent years, of being a Shia movement, but its founder, Hesham Salem, told Al Jazeera that the group is an “Islamic, Palestinian resistance movement” which doesn’t have a faith agenda and regularly coordinates with other factions to organise their positioning in the resistance.

Two weeks ago, an unknown assailant attempted to stab and apparently assassinate Salem.

This week, the group which released a statement, informing the public about his assassination. 

Al-Sarhi was declared as one of senior military leaders of Al Sabireen “while performing his Jihadi and holy duty in defending his nation and people” said the statement.

Hundreds of the Sabireen supporters gathered on Tuesday at Sarhi’s family home in Deir el Balah, as his wife and three-year-old daughter, Batoul, mourned his death.

At the gathering, al-Sarhi’s brother, Jamil al-Sarhi, told MEE that Israel had previously tried to assassinate his brother, on several occasions, using armed drones and fighter jets.

“He escaped assassination attempts in the first war (2008-2009), second war (2012) and third war (2014), when our 5-story home was hit—he was injured during a field battle and was treated in a safe place to protect him and keep him invisible,” Sarhi said.

Two days before his wedding in 2011, al-Sarhi survived an assassination attempt in Al Maghazi refugee camp, according to his brother.

Israel announced a week ago that Palestinian militants targeted a car belonging to an Israeli military officer, on the border of Gaza, close to Al Buriej. Israel now says that it was al-Sarhi who carried out that attack. The Israeli officer was injured in the attack but survived.

“We were expecting him to be killed any moment, because he always wanted to a martyr,” his brother said as hundreds of people flooded into his mourning tent.

“My brother left home around noon (Tuesday) and he called me to say that Israeli drones were following, above him, from the moment he left home, until Deir el Balah to Al Buriej. Then he was assassinated, and his friend was injured.”

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