The Palestinian Authority on Friday slammed the Israeli government over clashes on the Gaza border that Hamas said left sixteen Gazans dead and over 1,000 injured, backing the protests and claiming a leading role for itself alongside the rival Hamas.
Some 30,000 Palestinians massed near the Gaza security fence Friday as part of a so-called “March of Return” meant to coincide with Land Day. The IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said the IDF faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. “All the fatalities were aged 18-30, several of the fatalities were known to us, and at least two of them were members of Hamas commando forces,” he said in a late afternoon statement.
The Hamas terror group that rules Gaza was a key organizer of the protests, which are expected to last six weeks.
However, Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy chairman of the Fatah faction, which controls the Palestinian Authority, said on Friday that the Land Day demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza underscored the Palestinians’ support for the Palestinian Authority leadership “in face of the pressure and conspiracies concocted against our cause,” likely a reference to the US.
Aloul, who is seen by some Palestinians as a potential successor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that Fatah had called on Palestinians to participate in the demonstrations.
“Fatah led the marches in all areas, because for us the land is sacred,” he added. “For us, every day is a Land Day. Our villages witness daily conflict between the residents and settlers. Our people are prepared to make sacrifices for their land.”
The Israeli military said protesters threw firebombs and rocks at troops and burned tires. It said some Palestinians attempted to approach or breach the border fence and accused terror groups of using the protest as cover to plant bombs or carry out attacks against Israelis.
Smaller protests broke out in the West Bank, where dozens were reported injured in a series of clashes with troops in Nablus and elsewhere.
Both protests came as Palestinians marked Land Day, which commemorates the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover.
PA spokesman Yusef al Mahmoud said Ramallah held the Israeli government fully responsible for the “assaults” on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud called for “immediate and urgent international intervention to stop the shedding of the blood of our Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation forces.”
Aloul was quoted by the PA’s Wafa news agency as accusing Israel of targeting the “peaceful” protests with live ammunition.
“This will not stop us from pursuing our resistance,” he said. “Israel is exploiting the present situation to impose a reality on the ground, but our people will resist these attempts.”
The comments came as a rivalry between Fatah and Hamas has intensified in recent weeks after an assassination attempt against PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during a visit to Gaza. Abbas, who had yet to comment on Friday’s protests, accused Hamas earlier in March of orchestrating the bombing targeting Hamdallah.
Hamas has denied involvement and has accused Abbas of working to worsen a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.