Despite talk of an imminent truce in the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinian protesters once again gathered near the territory’s border with Israel Friday for the weekly Hamas-backed ‘March of Return’ demonstrations, with some rioters attacking Israeli soldiers along the fence.
Around 5,000 people were reported to be participating in the rallies at several points along the border with Israel. Hamas leadership had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.
Some demonstrators were hurling rocks at soldiers and burning tires to create a smokescreen. The IDF said rioters hurled improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at troops. Others launched balloons carrying pictures of so-called “martyrs” who had been killed by Israel. Several attempted to infiltrate the border.
The army said it used less-lethal means in response to the riots, and the troops “fired live rounds selectively according to standard operating procedures.”
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported that two men had been killed and around 250 injured, of which at least 25 were said hit by live fire.
Meanwhile an incendiary balloon launched from the Strip sparked a fire near Kibbutz Be’eri. Firefighters were at the scene.
Sources in the Defense Ministry said the events of the day would be a test of Hamas’s willingness and ability to enforce calm as part of a deal. An unconfirmed Lebanese television report Thursday said the truce was set to last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would remain in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv to receive constant updates about what was happening along the border.
Also Friday the father of a slain Israeli soldier whose remains are held by Hamas attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of “appeasement” and comparing him to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler in the 1930s has earned him much scorn.
Hamas is believed to be holding Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, along with the remains of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Israel has insisted their return be included in any long-term truce.
Simcha Goldin said Netanyahu’s failure to deter Hamas from its ongoing attacks and his apparent agreement to a ceasefire with the terror group that does not include the release of Israeli captives were weakening the nation.
“Netanyahu has made all Israelis the pushovers of the Middle East and we’ll pay for it in blood,” he said.
Over the past four months the “March of Return” protests have led to deadly clashes which saw Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or cross the border fence.
At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.
In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.