Army nabs 4 Gazans carrying knives near border

Army nabs 4 Gazans carrying knives near border

Arrests come after wave of arson attacks and rioting along the security fence on Friday

Israeli military vehicles are seen during clashes along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near Gaza City, on June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
Israeli military vehicles are seen during clashes along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near Gaza City, on June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers have arrested four Palestinians found carrying knives near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel in a pair of incidents.

Two of the Palestinians were caught Saturday morning close to the security fence in northern Gaza with four knives and a set of bolt cutters, according to the army.

The other two were nabbed overnight with a pair of knives in the south of the Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said the suspects were taken in for further questioning.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot during clashes along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near Gaza City, on June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The arrests came after incendiary balloons from Gaza sparked 14 fires Friday in southern Israel, hours after Israel granted a number of economic concessions to the Strip in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border.

Gaza health officials said Israeli security forces shot and injured 50 Palestinians at the border Friday afternoon during riots and mass demonstrations involving some 7,000 protesters, which also saw an IDF jeep set ablaze by an explosive device thrown by protesters.

There were no reported Israeli injuries.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 19 Palestinians were injured by live fire, and said Israeli troops also injured eight paramedic volunteers and one journalist. It was unclear how the remainder of the reported 50 individuals injured sustained their wounds.

Reports in Hebrew-language media said thousands of Palestinians took part in the weekly border protests and riots Friday afternoon, with hundreds launching incendiary balloons and throwing rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

The IDF said soldiers also identified an attempt to breach the border fence in northern Gaza earlier on Friday.

According to reports, organizers of the weekly “March of Return” protests called for Gazans to protest the unveiling of the Trump administration’s economic stimulus package for the Palestinian economy. The $50 billion proposal unveiled in the Bahraini capital of Manama earlier this week was widely criticized by Palestinians.

Illustrative: A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Earlier on Friday, an unnamed Israeli official confirmed that Israel had resumed fuel deliveries that were cut off earlier this week, and extended the fishing zone up to 15 nautical miles from 10 nautical miles. The official said that in return, Hamas “promised to halt the attacks on Israel,” a reference to incendiary balloons launched from the enclave.

Israel does not officially recognize ceasefire deals or negotiations with Hamas, an Islamist terror group which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel.

This week, approximately 100 fires have been started by balloon-borne arson devices launched from Gaza, according to figures from the local fire department.

There have been no injuries reported in the blazes, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but they have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife.

A general view of the only electrical plant that generates electricity in the central Gaza Strip, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Arson attacks picked up considerably in the past week, with teams affiliated with Hamas launching hundreds of helium-inflated balloons and condoms carrying incendiary devices and, in some cases, explosives across the border into Israel.

In response to the ongoing attacks, which represent a breach of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, Israel halted the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip Tuesday, a move that drew criticism from human rights advocates, who condemned it as collective punishment.

The restrictions on the fishing zone had also been criticized for punishing fisherman who have no link to the airborne attacks. Last week, Israel extended the fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, after it had been closed entirely for several days.

The halting of fuel shipments marked a shift in tack for Israel. Over the past several weeks, the government has used various restrictions on the size of the Strip’s fishing zone as its primary method of retaliating for the arson attacks.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas member warned Israel that its policies toward Gaza were endangering unofficial ceasefire understandings between the sides.

Earlier this month saw a fresh surge in serious violence between the two sides, including two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air force strikes.

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