Major clashes broke out along the Gaza border throughout Saturday, with one Palestinian assailant opening fire at an Israeli border guard from point-blank range, critically wounding him, Border Police said.
At least 41 rioters were injured by Israeli troops during the hostilities, two of them critically, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
One of the critically hurt Gazans was a 13-year-old boy, Palestinian health officials said.
In one incident during the day, as seen in video footage widely shared on social media, a man with a pistol ran up to a small hole in the concrete wall along the Gaza border that a sniper in the Border Police was using as a shooting position and fired a number of shots through it, hitting the border guard.
The Border Police officer sustained a head wound and was taken in critical condition to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center, where he was immediately taken into surgery, a hospital spokesperson said.
Prior to the shooting, a group of young Palestinian men could be seen running up to and attempting to destroy his gun, hitting it with a pipe, throwing a rock at it and attempting to wrest it away.
“The soldier fought back and prevented the gun in his hands from being taken away,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Channel 13 news that Israel “will not accept any harm to our forces. The incidents at the fence are grave and we will respond to them.”
The Israeli military said in a statement that soldiers had confronted hundreds of rioters near the border fence in the northern Strip over the course of three hours on Saturday afternoon and evening.
Alongside tear gas, soldiers used standard sniper fire and Ruger bullets, a small-caliber form of live fire that is less lethal than normal rounds under certain circumstances.
“Israel Defense Force soldiers, who were prepared in advance, used riot dispersal methods, which when necessary included Ruger and sniper fire,” the army said.
In additional videos that were streamed by Palestinian journalists on the scene throughout the afternoon and early evening, hundreds of Gazans could be seen approaching the barrier. Some Palestinians seemed to attempt to clamber onto the fence, while others huddled alongside a concrete barrier.
Another angle of the incident on the Gaza border shows a Palestinian apparently shooting with a handgun through the hole in the border wall, before the others try to snatch the IDF soldier's rifle. pic.twitter.com/ko69mHH4QW
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) August 21, 2021
Gaza factions had organized the Saturday protest in al-Malika Refugee Camp near the border with Israel as a part of a series of activities to pressure Israel, announcing its plans on Wednesday.
The Israel Defense Forces sent reinforcements to the border on Thursday, though it appeared to have insufficiently anticipated the extent of the violence planned for this weekend.
According to Channel 12 news, Hamas had intended to hold the rally a kilometer (0.62 miles) from the border, but lost control of the crowds who surged toward the fence.
“Our mobilizing masses have come to announce that the path of the Sword of Jerusalem is renewed,” said senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya, using the terror group’s name for the May fighting between Israel and Hamas. Al-Hayya serves as the group’s deputy Gaza chief.
The protest marked the first time Gazans have conducted a daytime march toward the Gaza border since December 2019. A series of demonstrations in 2018 and 2019 — some of which saw Hamas and Islamic Jihad members clash violently with Israeli soldiers — left hundreds of Gazans dead.
The demonstration took place despite a Thursday agreement that would return millions in Qatari subsidies to the Gaza Strip via the United Nations. The agreement was seen as a significant breakthrough in attempts to strengthen the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
A few protestors held slingshots, while others burned tires and rolled them towards the border, setting off clouds of smoke. But most of the demonstrators appeared to stay back, remaining a few hundred meters from the barrier dividing the enclave from Israel.
Tensions have risen between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks, as negotiations to strengthen the ceasefire appeared to hit a brick wall. On Monday, two rockets were fired at southern Israel for the first time since the May escalation, allegedly by Islamic Jihad.
For months, Israel and Hamas have held indirect negotiations to lay the terms for a new status quo. In the aftermath of May’s fighting, Israel has maintained heightened restrictions on Gaza, significantly limiting imports and exports and complicating the reconstruction of the battered enclave.
Israel also decided to block most of the millions in Qatari cash that entered the coastal enclave every month before the war. Prior to the May escalation, Israel had allowed the money to enter Gaza in exchange for quiet along its southern border.
During the recent 11-day war, Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rockets caused at least $290 million worth of damage to the Gaza Strip, international assessors reported in early July.
The Israeli government has also sought to condition any easing of restrictions on progress in talks to reach a prisoner exchange with Hamas. The terror group currently holds two Israeli civilians, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
However, it has slowly eased restrictions on the Strip as of late, despite an apparent lack of progress on that front, at the behest of international bodies.
Hamas hopes to swap the Israelis it holds for thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The terror group has repeatedly rejected the Israeli attempt to tie the prisoner exchange issue to Gaza’s reconstruction following the recent escalation.
The first significant progress in the ceasefire talks came on Thursday night, when the UN, Israel and Qatar announced a framework to return some of the Qatari money to Gaza. According to the agreement, the Qatari money will go through the UN before reaching banks in Gaza Strip.
The Qatari projects in the past funded fuel for Gaza’s only power plant and hospitals to shore up the enclave’s damaged healthcare system. They also brought in hundreds of millions in cash payments to 100,000 poor Gazan families and to Hamas’s civil servants.
But Thursday’s agreement will only provide salaries for the poor Gazan families, not for Hamas’s employees in the enclave. And Israel and Hamas have yet to publicly conclude an agreement to ease restrictions on the enclave and allow Gazans to fully rebuild.