JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli was shot and killed near a border fence with Egypt on Tuesday, Israel said, in an incident that an Egyptian official said occurred when an Egyptian soldier mistook him for an illegal migrant and opened fire.
It was a rare instance of violence along the normally quiet border. The Egyptian side has been plagued by both criminal trafficking rings and Islamic militant groups which have affected both Israel and Egypt.
Israeli officials did not confirm the Egyptian official's account of the shooting, saying the incident was under review.
The Israeli military said the Israeli was "shot and fatally wounded" by gunfire emanating from Egypt and said he died as he was being rushed to a hospital.
Israel's Defense Ministry said the victim, identified as Nimr Abu Amar from a Bedouin town in southern Israel, came to the border area with his relatives, who were hired by a sub-contractor to carry out maintenance work on the fence. Earlier, the ministry had said Abu Amar was employed by a contractor doing maintenance work on the fence.
Israeli media reported that Abu Amar was 15 years old, an assertion the Defense Ministry did not confirm but said it was looking into.
The military said that the shooting did not appear to be related to militant activity.
The senior Egyptian security official said the soldier mistook the Israeli for a migrant attempting to cross the border and opened fire. He said Egypt had notified Israel that the shooting was a mistake.
The official said earlier that human traffickers had shot at Israelis working on the barrier, which stretches along the 240-kilometer (150-mile) border between Egypt and Israel and is meant to prevent migrants from crossing into Israel.
The official said the traffickers shot at the workers in an attempt to disrupt work on the fence. He said the shooting took place in al-Kontala, a district in Egypt known as a hub of human and drug trafficking.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident with the media.
Israel erected the border fence in a bid to stamp out a flow of African migrants, most from Eritrea and Sudan, who pay human traffickers hefty sums to get them through Egypt's lawless Sinai Peninsula to reach Israel, often traveling under precarious conditions.
More than 40,000 African migrants are in Israel, but Israel says the fence has largely stopped their influx.
Many migrants say they are fleeing conflict and persecution and are seeking refugee status. Israel says they are economic migrants whose growing numbers threaten the country's Jewish character.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 and the border between the two countries is generally quiet. Across the frontier in Sinai, Egypt's security forces are battling an Islamic militant insurgency and there have been occasional cross-border violent flare-ups.