Israeli military aircraft struck six targets in the Gaza Strip Friday night belonging to Hamas’s naval forces, the army said, in response to “terror acts and the major attempt to infiltrate the border into Israeli territory earlier in the day.”
Palestinians reported that four people were injured in strikes on a position belonging to Hamas’s naval commando forces in the port of Gaza City in the northern Strip.
Earlier in the day hundreds of Palestinians converged on the Strip’s border fence with Israel, trying to rip through it before drawing Israeli fire in one of the most violent incidents yet in five weeks of protests.
Three people were killed and over 300 hurt in Friday’s rallies, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said, as thousands of Palestinians converged on the border with Israel.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it “thwarted” an attempted infiltration by Palestinian protesters.
It said “hundreds of rioters” tried to burn the fence and enter Israel. It said the crowd threw explosives, firebombs and rocks, and that troops opened fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and halted the crowd.
It released a video showing a young Palestinian man placing a burning tire along the fence in an apparent attempt to set it on fire. In another, a small group lobbed stones at an Israeli military vehicle on the other side of the fence.
In other incidents, the military said Palestinian crowds rolled burning tires, hurled rocks and flew kites with flaming objects attached with the goal of damaging the fence and other Israeli targets. It also released a photo appearing to show a group of youths tugging at barbed wire along the fence.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach, in which Gazans would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Gaza officials said about half of the 300 wounded were hit by live fire, with the other half hurt by tear gas.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited a protest camp in the southern town of Rafah, vowing larger protests in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and among Palestinian refugees in other countries on May 15. “Our people will not slow down the protests until they get their rights,” he said.
The number of protesters appeared to be down from previous weeks. The demonstrations have progressively dwindled, with the first event on March 30 drawing around 30,000 people, and last Friday’s rally managing only around a tenth of that.
The protests, which are backed and encouraged by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, were originally dubbed by their Palestinian organizers as nonviolent, but Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, publicly supported the protests and declared that their ultimate goal was to erase the border and liberate Palestine. Rioters have burned tires, hurled firebombs and rocks at Israeli troops, flown flaming kites over the border and repeatedly attempted to sabotage the security fence.
Israel says Hamas uses the marches as cover for terrorist attacks.
The Israeli army says its troops only open fire at demonstrators who engage in violence, or who attempt to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel. Palestinian videos have emerged that purport to show soldiers shooting protesters who did not pose a threat. The army has accused Hamas of fabricating video footage or releasing only partial clips.
According to Gaza’s health ministry the latest deaths brought the death toll in the border clashes since March 30 to 44, with over 1,500 said injured by live fire.
The Israeli army says it mainly uses less-lethal means, as well as pinpoint fire against chief instigators. It says its sharpshooters target only those who attack IDF soldiers with stones and Molotov cocktails, actively try to damage the security fence, or attempt to place improvised explosive devices along the security fence that could later be used in attacks against Israeli patrols.