The Arabs cut through the fence around the former town of N'vei Dekalim and threw stones at soldiers. They are guarding synagogues, public buildings and the ruins of homes in more than 21 communities where 9,000 Jews lived before being expelled three week ago.

Soldiers fired in the air, but the youth continued to forge into the area and climbed an IDF tank while planting flags of the Hamas terrorist group in the ground. Army sources said they informed the Palestinian Authority (PA) police for three hours during the disturbance, but that the police did not try to stop the youths from crossing into the N'vei Dekalim area during a march near the city of Khan Yunis.

The PA claimed they dispersed the mob and rescued the injured, but IDF sources said they saw no medical vehicles in the area.

The government has expressed fears that Arabs would try to take over the area, where houses of worship and public buildings remain standing. Military officers have expressed concern that terrorists or PA police would use the buildings as positions for carrying out attacks against Israel.

The incident was the first time IDF soldiers and Arabs were involved in a direct confrontation since the disengagement. Arab terrorists have been shooting randomly at IDF positions and launching occasional mortar shell and rocket attacks in the area and in the western Negev, but the IDF has not responded.

One Israeli civilian suffered moderate leg injuries earlier in the day after terrorists threw three hand grenades at soldiers and civilians working near the Egyptian-Israeli border.