Israel’s chief military liaison to the Palestinians said Friday Hamas “has failed” in its efforts to foment chaos along the Gaza border through its weekly “March of Return” rallies.
The terror group, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon said in an Arabic Facebook post, had repeatedly vowed that large crowds would breach the border with Israel, a plan that had failed to materialize, and had only led to bloodshed.
“In fact, Hamas failed twice,” he said. “First by investing money in terrorism rather than in caring for the needs of the population, and then again through Gazans’ reluctance to join the marches.”
Around 10,000 people participated in Friday’s rally on the border, the eleventh such protest, a result that was apparently disappointing for Hamas, which had touted June 8, Quds Day, as a major event, and had said it hoped for 40,000 people to take part.
Hamas had dubbed Friday’s rally as the “March of a Million to Jerusalem.” The protest had been described as a fresh attempt to breach the border fence en masse, drawing fears of a melee similar to that seen on May 14, when tens of thousands of Palestinians burned tires, threw firebombs, tried to cut through the fence, and shot at troops, leading to dozens dying by Israeli fire.
Four Palestinians were reported killed during Friday’s clashes, one of them a teenager.
The Ynet news website reported that only around a quarter of participants approached the security fence to clash with troops, and that unlike previous rallies, very few women and children were seen near the fence — another possible indicator of scant appetite among Gazans for further violence.
The Israeli army had prepared for Friday’s protests to be far more violent and intense.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted: “The determination and professionalism of IDF soldiers on the Gaza border are proving themselves. Despite the great efforts of Hamas and Iran, less and less terrorists are coming to our border.”
Security officials said late Friday they were bracing for possible rocket-fire from the Strip, as Hamas has warned it could respond with such attacks to fatalities during the protests.
Over 100 people were injured by live fire in clashes along the security fence, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
The military said protesters hurled grenades, improvised explosives, and rocks at soldiers, burned tires and flew dozens of incendiary kites and balloons into Israeli territory, sparking a number of fires. At one point, gunmen opened fire at an IDF post in the north of the Strip. There were no Israeli casualties.
In addition to kites and balloons outfitted with pouches of burning fuel — which have become a regular occurrence at protests — the army said it had intercepted a number of airborne explosive devices that were being flown into Israel.
Troops fired tear gas canisters at the mobs of demonstrators. The Israel Defense Forces also confirmed that live rounds were fired in accordance with its rules of engagement.
The Hamas-run health ministry reported that over 500 people had been injured, eight of them seriously. The majority of people hurt had inhaled tear gas, the army’s primary less-lethal riot dispersal weapon. According to the health ministry, 117 people were injured by live fire. One man was also hit in the face with a tear gas canister.
A video released by the IDF on Friday showed rioters burning tires, attempting to damage the security fence, and throwing explosives across the border.
On Thursday evening, Hamas said it hoped over 40,000 people would come to Gaza’s border with Israel for the demonstration on the last Friday of Ramadan as part of the annual protests to mark Quds Day, so called for the Arabic name for Jerusalem. The day is marked by demonstrations throughout the Muslim world and in some European cities.
In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, over 110 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Most of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
Judah Ari Gross and Agencies contributed to this report.