Some 10,000 Palestinians flocked to the Gaza Strip border for violent protests on Friday afternoon as the IDF intensified a crackdown in the West Bank in response to a pair of deadly shootings believed to have been carried out by the Hamas terrorist group.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 16 protesters were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces along the border.
The protests were held at various locations along the border under the banner of Hamas’s ongoing “March of Return” demonstrations. According to reports, the protesters hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and hand grenades toward Israeli troops. According to the Ynet news site, most of the explosives did not clear the border fence, and fell inside the Strip.
The IDF said two protesters breached the border during the clashes, but quickly retreated back to the other side when IDF troops neared.
The weekly protests come after several weeks of relative calm in Gaza. However, the last week has seen a spike in terror attacks in the West Bank, some of which were claimed by Hamas.
On Thursday, a Palestinian opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the West Bank, killing Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, 20, and Cpl. Yosef Cohen, 19, and wounding another soldier and civilian. Days earlier, On Sunday, seven Israelis were wounded by gunfire in a drive-by shooting, including a pregnant woman, outside the settlement of Ofra. The woman’s baby was delivered prematurely in an emergency operation, but died on Wednesday.
Israel accuses Hamas of being behind this week’s attacks. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, praised Thursday’s shooting and confirmed that two of the Palestinian assailants killed by Israel this week were members of its military wing.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding weekly “March of Return” protests on the border, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using to carry out attacks on troops and attempt to breach the security fence. Hamas, an Islamist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.
Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.
The border protests come weeks after Hamas and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza engaged in the heaviest battle with Israel since the 2014 war. Since then, Hamas has largely been keeping protesters at a distance from the fence.
After an Israeli special forces operation in Gaza was exposed, and an Israeli soldier and seven Hamas gunmen were killed in the ensuing firefight, some 500 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of November 12-13 — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 conflict.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens and causing significant property damage.
Also Friday, Hamas supporters clashed with Palestinian Authority security forces in Hebron.
Hamas declared Friday to be a “Day of Rage,” saying this week’s protests were meant to celebrate the founding of the group dedicated to the destruction of Israel 31 years ago. Hamas called for West Bank Palestinians to confront Israeli security forces throughout the day, but the protests did not see a large turnout.
Hamas protests in Hebron and Nablus were suppressed by Palestinian Authority security forces, who were seen beating demonstrators with batons.
Meanwhile, street clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters erupted outside Ramallah on Friday afternoon, with protesters slinging rocks and Israeli soldiers responding with tear gas.
The Palestinian health ministry said an 18-year-old man was killed by Israeli fire near the settlement of Beit El, and dozens of Palestinians were injured in the Ramallah-area clashes.