One of the Gazan Palestinians who blew a hole in the security fence and crossed the border into Israel on Friday was killed at point-blank range after approaching a soldier with a knife, the military said early Sunday.
Seven Palestinians were killed in all and at least 252 were injured in intense clashes with Israeli security forces along the Gaza border on Friday afternoon and evening, the Hamas-run health ministry said.
In the most serious incident, in the south of the Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said several Gazans planted a bomb by the fence. After it exploded and blew a hole in the fence, some 20 Palestinians rushed through and ran toward Israeli soldiers stationed in a snipers’ nest.
Most of the Gazans pulled back and returned through the fence into the Strip after the soldiers fired warning shots into the air. However, several continued to move toward the soldiers, who fired at them, according to Sgt. Omer Kaplan, a field intelligence soldier who monitors the border through surveillance cameras.
The smoke from the explosion obstructed the view of the border and made it hard for Kaplan and the other lookouts to spot the Palestinians after they crossed.
“Under the cover of smoke and the violent disturbance, several suspects tried to approach an [Israeli] post, but I recognized them and informed the forces over the communications network and they fired warning shots at them,” she said, in a statement released by the IDF.
“Most of them doubled back, but I noticed that one remained in the area and we lost sight of him,” Kaplan said. “We did a reconstruction… in real time, and I told the forces that there was another terrorist [in the field]. One of the fighters spotted him and neutralized him.”
Major Ben Hallel, an officer in the Paratroopers Brigade who commanded the troops during the incident, said the Palestinian was armed with a knife and tried to attack a soldier, who opened fire at close range and killed him.
“We received a reports from the lookouts, saying that one of the terrorists remained in Israeli territory, just under where we were stationed. One of the soldiers, who was near the location, spotted the terrorist, who approached him with a knife,” Hallel said.
The military’s investigation of the incident found that the soldier called on the Palestinian to stop several times before shooting him, the Walla news site reported. The report said the IDF assessed that he intended to grab the soldier’s weapon.
The bodies of three Palestinians were taken back into the Strip by rioters, Hadashot TV news reported.
“This is a blatant terror attempt that was thwarted by IDF troops quickly and professionally which prevented a possible terror attack against civilians and IDF troops,” the IDF said Friday, noting the knife that was found at the scene.
The army said some 15,000 protesters hurled grenades, bombs, firebombs and rocks at Israeli forces at various locations along the border. Hadashot reported that for the first time soldiers were also being shot at with crossbows.
Troops responded with riot dispersal means and live fire, the army said.
In light of the bomb attack on the fence and the heavy rioting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered a halt to the transfer of fuel into the Strip.
Riots along the Gaza border have increased in recent weeks, going from a weekly event to near nightly protests since Hamas halted indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire. The humanitarian crisis in the Strip, meanwhile, has worsened, while reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and actively calls for Israel’s destruction, has created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.
Almost every evening, thousands of Gazans have been gathering for violent demonstrations at the Erez crossing and elsewhere, in what is regarded by some as part of Hamas’s attempts to signal to Israel that it wants an economic solution to the Gaza Strip.
At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.