Some 4,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border Friday, in an unusually low turnout for the weekly protests.
The protests were less intense than usual, according to Channel 13 news, likely due to the scorching heat wave and the Ramadan fast. Past demonstrations have numbered in the tens of thousands.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry reported 16 injured by gas inhalation and rubber bullets during riots at the border, including a volunteer medic and a journalist. All were treated on the spot, according to the Walla news site.
Israeli authorities suspect that several of the fires ravaging Israel on Thursday and Friday were caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Strip, including a fire near the southern community of Moshav Yakhini which prompted the evacuation of a number of families.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 24, 2019
The Israeli military on Wednesday night announced it was cutting back the fishing zone off the coast of the Gaza Strip to 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) after several fires were sparked in southern Israel by balloon-borne arson devices from the coastal enclave.
The move came one day after Israel expanded the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers) from 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers), apparently as a part of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
The incendiary attacks would appear to violate the reported terms of the truce.
Israel refuses to officially acknowledge the existence of a ceasefire agreement, but has largely abided by the reported terms of it.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the agreement includes a Hamas obligation to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; an end to the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and a stop to flotillas trying to break through the maritime border between Gaza and Israel.
In return, Israel expanded the fishing zone and agreed to enable United Nations cash-for-work programs, allow medicine and other civil aid to enter the Strip, and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings, healthcare and funds.
Since March 30, 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in regular protests along the border, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.
The protests have included many acts of violence against Israeli security forces, and have seen at least 200 Palestinians killed.
Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.