Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday defended security forces for their actions during clashes along the border with the Gaza Strip earlier in the day in which dozens of Palestinians were killed.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 55 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,200 wounded in the violence, amid the biggest riots and rallies in a weeks-long campaign of protests against Israel. The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed.
“Every country has the obligation to protect its borders,” Netanyahu said. “The Hamas terrorist organization declares its intentions to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border fence for that purpose. We will continue to act with determination to defend our sovereignty and our citizens.”
The IDF said some 40,000 Gazans demonstrated in 12 locations along the border. It said thousands more had gathered at points several hundred meters from the fence.
The army’s primary concern during the riots was that dozens or hundreds of Palestinians, including Hamas members, would manage to break through the Gaza security fence and wreak havoc in one of the Israeli communities on the other side.
Hadashot TV news, citing sources in Hamas, said 10 members of the Hamas terrorist group’s security forces were among fatalities in the border clashes. A son of Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, a co-founder of Hamas, was among the dead, the report said.
At around 4 p.m., while the United States was inaugurating its new embassy in Jerusalem, military sources said Hamas-spurred groups were trying to breach the border at several spots along the Gaza fence.
Palestinians were also marking the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation in 1948.
Gaza protesters set tires on fire, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air at several spots along the border, the military said, and others charged the border fence and hurled rocks at soldiers.
The army said three of those killed were trying to plant explosives at the border fence. In two separate incidents, IDF troops opened fire on gunmen who were trying to shoot them, Hadashot reported. The military later confirmed it had carried out a series of airstrikes in Gaza, “in response to the violent acts of the last few hours being carried out by Hamas along the security fence.”
The UN Security Council was expected to hold an emergency meeting later Monday, or the following morning, to discuss the violence.
Military sources said Hamas was determined to spark a major new, long-term uprising against Israel, extending to the West Bank.
Speaking earlier in the day, before the rioting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the army was prepared for attempts by Hamas to disrupt celebrations for the opening of the embassy.
“I advise the residents of Gaza: Don’t be blinded by [Yahya] Sinwar who sends your children to sacrifice their lives for nothing,” he said, referring to the Hamas leader in Gaza. “We will protect our citizens with every means and we will not allow the fence to be breached.”
Israel said ahead of Monday’s protests that Hamas was planning to breach the Gaza border fence and “massacre” Israelis, and that it would stop a possible border breach at all costs, warning protesters that they were putting their own lives in peril.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.