Hamas, Israeli army exchange fire

Ceasefire tested amid warnings of another escalation since Israel reportedly held up the latest cash transfer from Qatar to Gaza.

GAZA CITY - A Hamas militant was killed by Israeli tank fire along the Gaza border Tuesday, the health ministry in the strip said, in what the Israeli army described as a response to gunfire which wounded a soldier.

Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said that Mohammed al-Nabaheen, 24, was hit by tank fire and died, while two other people were hurt.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, confirmed he was a member of its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

The Israeli army said it had targeted a Hamas observation post after a soldier was lightly wounded when a bullet struck his helmet.

In a statement, it said an initial investigation found "an assailant fired at troops" during a riot that included rock-hurling.

"A bullet struck the helmet of an IDF officer, lightly injuring him," it added, referring to the Israel Defence Forces.

A picture published by the army on social media showed the soldier's damaged helmet.

It was the first time in weeks that an Israeli soldier had been reported injured by gunfire along the border, though earlier Tuesday the army said shots were also fired at troops in a separate incident.

In response a tank targeted a Hamas military post without reports of any injuries.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire from the Gaza Strip, even if it carried out by smaller groups.

An informal truce between Hamas and Israel has brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks.

But there have been warnings of another escalation since Israel reportedly held up the latest cash transfer from Gulf state Qatar to Gaza, set to take place under the truce.

The payments are controversial in Israel, where they have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election in April 9 polls.

Qatar's ambassador to Gaza said Monday that the $15 million (13 million euros) in cash, to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in the enclave, is expected to be delivered via Israel this week.

Israel's government has not commented. Its permission is required since the cash must be delivered via Israeli territory.

Hamas is labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.

The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90 million, in connection with the truce.

Israel has also allowed deliveries of Qatari-financed fuel to the blockaded enclave to help ease a severe electricity shortage.

Mass protests erupted on the Gaza-Israel border in March last year.

The weekly protests have been calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

At least 243 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, the majority during protests. Others have died in airstrikes or shelling.

Most were killed during the protests, though others were killed by tank fire or air strikes. Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the protests and using them as cover for attacks.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched special forces operation inside Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.