Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Israel would retaliate against anyone who attacks Israelis, a day after a Border Police officer was shot and critically wounded during a riot on the Gaza Strip border.
Barel Hadaria Shmueli, 21, from Be’er Yaakov in central Israel, was shot in the head at point-blank range during major clashes along the Gaza border on Saturday.
“We will settle the score with anyone who harms our fighters and civilians,” Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“I would like to send my best wishes for a speedy recovery and pray for the healing of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was wounded by a terrorist on the Gaza Strip [border] fence,” Bennett said.
The prime minister also said that after consultations last week, the defense establishment was prepared to face “any scenario.”
“During the night, the IDF responded with a broad attack in the Gaza Strip. Last week, I conducted a situation assessment in the Gaza Division with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and [IDF] Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and I can tell you that the IDF, the Southern Command and the Gaza Division are prepared and ready for any scenario,” the premier said.
On Sunday, Palestinian terror factions in Gaza said in a statement that they wouldn’t cease the border riots against Israel.
“We will continue activities without hesitation or retreat until Israel stops harming Jerusalem and our people in the West Bank, and until the siege on the Gaza Strip is lifted,” they said in a statement at a press conference. “Israel must take legal and humanitarian responsibility.”
The terror groups additionally condemned Israel’s strikes on Hamas targets overnight, calling them “an attack on defenseless civilians.”
Shmueli’s father said Sunday that all he wanted was for his son to live, but criticized the military for the “error” that allowed rioters to get so close to the fence and open fire on him.
“I ask only that he lives, no more than that,” his father Yossi told Channel 12 news. “Let all the people of Israel pray for his recovery.”
Videos that were streamed by Palestinian journalists at the scene throughout Saturday showed hundreds of Gazans approaching the border. Some Palestinians seemed to attempt to clamber onto the fence, while others huddled alongside a concrete barrier.
Later Saturday, the IDF carried out airstrikes on four Hamas weapons storage sites in Gaza in response to the riots and the attack on Shmueli.
Sorkoa Hospital in Beersheba said Sunday that after the shooting, Shmueli was sent to the trauma center for treatment and immediately underwent emergency surgery.
Overnight his condition improved from critical to serious, and he remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit, unconscious and intubated, a hospital spokesperson said.
Police said in a statement said that Shmueli was a sniper in the elite undercover mista’arvim unit and had taken part in “dozens of operations to foil terror attacks and crime in the southern region.” He had been dispatched to the Gaza border this weekend to assist the Israel Defense Forces during the clashes along the security fence.
In the attack on Shmueli, 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 Shmueli was using as a shooting position and fired a number of shots through it, hitting the border guard.
Shmueli and an IDF soldier were using the hole in the wall as a sniper position. Around the same time, a group of young Palestinian men also tried to destroy and steal the IDF soldier’s gun, which was poking through the wall, hitting it with a pipe, throwing a rock at it and then attempting to wrest it away.
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
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.
The 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.
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 they appeared to have insufficiently anticipated the extent of the violence planned for the weekend.
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.
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.
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, Israel 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.
Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report