The Israel Defense Forces on Friday deployed further batteries of the Iron Dome missile defense system in the south of the country as Hamas threatened to avenge the death of one of its members who was shot dead a day earlier by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.”
“We do not accept the enemy’s apology for the killing of the martyr Mahmoud al-Adham, and we’ll avenge him. We give the Zionist enemy a week to implement the understandings,” said senior Hamas official Fathi Hamad.
Some 6,000 Palestinians gathered on the Gaza border for protests Friday afternoon, where some rioters hurled rocks as well as explosive devices at soldiers, Hebrew-language media reported.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said 55 people were injured, 33 of them by live fire, according to Channel 13.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian delegation entered the enclave on Friday afternoon in a bid to calm tensions, Hebrew-language media reported.
Mediators from Cairo have long worked to negotiate between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules Gaza, in a bid to prevent major outbreaks of violence.
On Thursday, in an unusual move, the military acknowledged that Hamas field commander Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28, had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.
The army’s statement appeared to be an effort to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence on the border.
Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”
On Friday morning a former Israeli liaison to the Palestinians assessed that Hamas would not launch a major escalation with Israel despite Thursday’s incident.
Eitan Dangot, formerly the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, told Army Radio Hamas had an interest in maintaining the peace and upholding the ceasefire with Israel, as it opened up the potential for an improvement in the Strip’s financial situation.
“There is progress here and economic potential, and Hamas needs to consider whether it wants to ruin that,” Dangot said. “It has a lot to lose if things get out of control… I don’t believe there will be an extreme escalation today.”
Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza. Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.
Thursday’s border incident came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.
On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.
Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report.