Two Palestinians were killed Friday in violent demonstrations along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said.
A 13-year-old was fatally shot in the head and a 24-year-old man died of gunshot wounds to his leg and abdomen, the ministry said.
According to some reports, the boy was shot while sabotaging the border fence. A paramedic told AP the teenager was throwing stones “very close to the fence” before he was shot.
Around 5,000 Palestinians demonstrated at five points along the border. Rioters burned tires and attacked Israeli forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails. At one point a bomb was hurled at troops.
Over 100 people were reported wounded during the protests from tear gas and Israeli fire. Several Palestinian medics were also said hurt from smoke inhalation.
The army said that throughout the afternoon, “thousands of Palestinians participated in extremely violent riots and committed various acts of terror in several locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.”
Israeli forces responded with “large amounts of riot dispersal means and in specific cases where these means did not succeeded in negating the threat, resorted to live fire in accordance with the standard operating procedures,” it said.
Fifteen fires broke out in Israel due to incendiary balloons and kites launched from the Gaza Strip. Firefighters doused the blazes.
Police said multiple balloons with writing on them were found in communities near Gaza. They urged residents to avoid touching the balloons and to call law enforcement.
Palestinians managed to down a small Israeli drone that was filming crowds in central Gaza, the army said. Officials said there was no loss of sensitive information.
Since protests broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, dozens of them acknowledged members of terror groups.
Israel says it is defending its border and nearby communities and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the fence and carry out attacks. The army says it has fired on those who have attacked and endangered troops, sabotaged the border fence and tried to breach the border.
On Thursday an Israeli tank fired on two Palestinians as they attempted to break through the security fence east of Rafah in southern Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said one of the two later died of the injuries he sustained in the incident.
The military said that when troops later searched the area, they found a number of Molotov cocktails the two had apparently intended to use in an attack.
Also Thursday about 20 fires were started by incendiary balloons and kites in the Eshkol, Sdot Negev and Sha’ar Hanegev regions, engulfing communities in smoke, charring nature reserves and killing many animals in what has lately become a daily routine.
A suspected explosive device was also found in Israeli territory, attached to a balloon, police said.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.
Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.
The IDF has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.
Overnight Wednesday, the Israeli military carried out a number of strikes in Gaza in response to the launches. Terror groups in Gaza launched over a dozen rockets toward Israel in retaliation for the strikes, setting off warning sirens and sending thousands of Israelis to bomb shelters.
In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.
However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.
“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.
It was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks.
Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.