Thousands of Palestinians gathered at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, and violent clashes between Gazan protesters and Israeli forces were renewed for the third consecutive week.
About 2,000 people gathered at a tent camp east of Gaza City, one of five set up by organizers, and located several hundred meters from the border fence. Several dozen young men moved closer to the fence, some of them throwing stones.
At least eight Palestinians were wounded, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said at around midday, with one shot in the head. Most were injured east of Gaza City, but two were hurt in clashes near Al-Bureij in central Gaza.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson confirmed Israeli troops used live fire and riot dispersal methods including tear gas at several points along the security fence.
The military spokesperson denied reports in Hebrew media that a mob of dozens of Palestinians had tried to breach the border between Israel and Gaza.
In northern Gaza, a large Israeli flag was burned that had earlier been set on the ground for protesters to walk over.
Organizers were calling on Friday’s demonstrators to burn Israeli flags and raise Palestinian ones.
The largest crowds were expected in the afternoon after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
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The IDF had deployed snipers and tanks along the border in readiness for another showdown with the Hamas-backed demonstrators.
Friday’s protest is the third of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The previous week there were an estimated 30,000 protesters.
Thirty-four Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel, and attempt to carry out attacks. Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests and says it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
Israel’s defense minister has warned that protesters approaching the border fence endanger their lives, drawing condemnation from rights groups that said such seemingly broad open-fire rules are unlawful.
The idea of mass protests was initially floated by social media activists, but was later co-opted by Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, with the backing of smaller terror groups. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
The White House has called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel.
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation. The “Return” refers to Palestinians’ demand that tens of thousands of refugees and their millions of descendants be allowed to live in today’s Israel, an influx that would spell the end of Israel as the world’s sole Jewish-majority state.
Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
Egypt on Thursday opened its largely sealed border with the blockaded Gaza Strip for three days, Palestinian authorities said. In the fourth such opening this year, the Rafah crossing to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will be open until Saturday for humanitarian cases, the interior ministry in Gaza said.
Tensions have flared since the beginning of the protests.
On Thursday, the IDF said it bombed Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip, after an explosive device detonated near an Israeli army vehicle along the border on Wednesday. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said one Gazan was killed and another seriously wounded in the strike.
During that airstrike, Hamas gunmen targeted an Israeli aircraft with machine gun fire, and one of the bullets hit a family’s home in Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev as it fell back to earth. The gunfire triggered rocket sirens in the area, and the family rushed to a reinforced room inside their home. The bullet landed in the house’s shower. There were no injuries but light damage was caused to the roof and internal ceiling of the home.