2 Palestinians wounded by IDF fire during riots along Gaza fence

Army says 350 demonstrators take part in violent protests, plant flag along border amid heightened alert after last week’s bomb attack

A Palestinian throws a rock toward Israeli soldiers during clashes near the border fence east of Gaza City on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
A Palestinian throws a rock toward Israeli soldiers during clashes near the border fence east of Gaza City on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

A few hundred Palestinians violently protested along the Gaza border Friday amid a heightened alert by the Israeli military.

The IDF said some 350 demonstrators took part in the riots at five different locations along the border, burning tires and throwing rocks toward soldiers.

Two “inciters” were shot by soldiers for “posing a threat to IDF troops and the security fence,” the army said. There were no reports of injured soldiers.

In one incident a Palestinian flag was hung upon the border fence, according to Hadashot TV news. During rioting last week, terrorists from the Popular Resistance Committees put a flag on the fence, under which they hid an improvised explosive device.

The following day, when IDF troops from the Golani brigade and the combat engineering corps approached the fence to remove the flag, the bomb detonated, wounding four soldiers, two of them seriously.

Israeli soldiers observe Palestinian protesters during clashes near the border fence east of Gaza City on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

In response to that attack, and to a rocket fired from Gaza that hit a home in southern Israel late Saturday night, the IDF conducted a series of strikes against 18 targets in the Strip, including on an attack tunnel entrance in Gaza City, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in the Knesset on Monday.

In a separate incident last Saturday, an IDF tank fired on a group of Palestinians who the army said approached the security fence “in a suspicious manner,” killing two of them and seriously injuring two others.

The IDF has now eased the open-fire regulations in response to the heightened tensions, allowing soldiers to use lethal fire to prevent similar approaches to the border fence in future, Channel 10 reported on Friday. Snipers were stationed along the border for the purpose, along with other forces.

The move comes after Israeli officials warned that the IED attack crossed a red line, and “the gloves will be off” in the next encounter between rioters organized by Hamas and IDF troops.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, left, speaks to IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi in a field just outside the Gaza Strip on February 20, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

On Tuesday, Liberman warned Gazans that their Hamas rulers were taking advantage of them and endangering their lives by sending them to take part in demonstrations near the border with Israel.

Echoing statements made by Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians the night before, Liberman said the army had “learned the lessons” from last weekend’s attack and would respond more aggressively in the future, though he declined to elaborate on what specific policy changes the military was adopting.

Though Liberman had previously said the direct perpetrators of the IED attack were from the Palestinian Resistance Committees terrorist group, he said on Tuesday that Hamas, which rules the Strip, was also liable as it allowed the attack to take place.

“What’s clear is that Hamas is using the residents of the Gaza Strip as a cover for terrorist activities,” he said. “This is unacceptable. We won’t continue with this game.”

The defense minister accused Hamas’s leaders of sending Gaza residents to take part in violent demonstrations while making sure their own family members never get close to the border. He also noted that senior figures in the terrorist group enjoy a constant supply of electricity, while most Gaza residents get just a few hours a day.

Israelis soldiers takes clash with Palestinian protesters near the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on February 23, 2018. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Separately Friday, the IDF said 950 Palestinians held violent protests at 14 locations in the West Bank.

The protesters burned tires and threw rocks and molotov cocktails at IDF troops and border policeman, who responded with riot dispersal means, the army said.

The IDF said it was aware of one Palestinian reported injured in the clashes.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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