Hamas says Gaza toll rises to 18 as another Palestinian dies of wounds

Islamic Jihad terror group claims Faris al-Raqib, 29, as a member, but says he was unarmed when he was shot during border demonstrations

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during a protest along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip on March 31, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during a protest along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip on March 31, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A Palestinian man succumbed to his wounds Monday three days after being shot by Israeli forces during clashes along the Gaza Strip border, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said, raising the reported death toll to 18.

Faris al-Raqib, 29, was shot in the stomach during Friday’s clashes east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, as tens of thousands of people took part in the mass protests, the health ministry said.

The Islamic Jihad terror group said in a statement that Raqib was a member, but that he was not carrying a weapon when he was shot.

There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures.

The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday that at least 10 of those killed were members of Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, and gave details of their roles.

Fatalities from the March 30 violence on the Israel-Gaza border identified by Israel as members of terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday, some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.

The Gaza health ministry reported that over 1,000 people were injured during the Friday protests, more than half by Israeli gunfire and the rest from tear gas and rubber bullets. These figures could not be independently verified. Israeli officials said they were inflated.

There were no casualties among Israelis.

The army said that its sharpshooters targeted only those taking explicit violent action against Israeli troops or trying to break through or damage the security fence. Video footage showed that in one case a rioter, whom the army included in its list of Hamas members, appeared to be shot while running away from the border. The army in response accused Hamas of editing and/or fabricating its videos.

The United States on Saturday blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, diplomats said.

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties.” He also called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths and injuries during Friday’s clashes.

IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said Friday the army 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.

Hamas is a terrorist group that openly seeks to destroy Israel and which seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority. Israel accuses Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protest as cover to carry out violence.

A Palestinian protester wearing an Anonymous mask holds a knife during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 01, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Palestinians say protesters were shot while posing no threat to soldiers and rights groups have criticized Israel’s use of live fire.

The Palestinians’ march to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday was the largest such demonstration in recent memory, calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that their ancestors fled from in the 1948 War of Independence. It was dubbed the “March of Return.”

The army has remained on high alert even as the violence appeared to abate Friday evening, amid fears of persisting attacks, including infiltration attempts and rocket fire.

Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers released these images of members of its military wing who it acknowledged were among 16 Gazans it said were killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Hamas)

Protest organizers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. Palestinians mark that date as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands left or were forced to leave during the 1948 War of Independence. The vast majority of Gaza’s two million people are their descendants.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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