Palestinian protesters in Gaza on Friday hurled an explosive device and firebombs at Israeli troops deployed at the border, during what the Israel Defense Forces described as “several attempts” to damage the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip and cross over into Israeli territory.
The Hamas-run health ministry said a 28-year old man had been shot and killed and more than 100 others injured by live fire.
Some 10,000-15,000 Palestinians were taking part in violent riots in five locations along the length of the border, the army said. In addition to trying to breach and cross the barrier, they carried out a number of attacks, including throwing Molotov cocktails and explosives at Israeli soldiers.
Military sources were quoted telling Israel’s Channel 10 television that “Hamas operatives were at the forefront” of what they said were hours of riots, as opposed to the peaceful protests that the original organizers of the weekly marches claimed to have planned.
Rioters torched tires and burning large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky.
The army, which has accused Hamas and other terror groups of utilizing the smoke as cover for efforts to bomb the border, said it used live fire and crowd dispersal methods in accordance with IDF open-fire regulations. Military sources quoted by Channel 10 said IDF snipers had orders to fire at the ankles of violent attackers.
“The IDF will not permit damage to the security fence or infrastructure that protects Israeli citizens and will act against the violent rioters and terrorists involved,” the army said.
A senior Hamas official, Ismail Radwan, said in an interview near the border that the demonstrations were designed to send a message to the world: “It’s time that our Palestinian people returned to their towns and villages [in today’s Israel], from which their fathers and grandfathers were forced out as a result of the occupation.” Israel has no military or civilian presence in Gaza, having unilaterally withdrawn to the pre-1967 lines and dismantled its settlements in Gaza in 2005. Hamas seized control of the Strip two years later.
The IDF released two photographs that it said showed attempts at border violence. The first showed what it said was an attempt by a man to place an explosive device next to the fence. (He is seen at bottom in the picture below next to two men wearing flak jackets marked PRESS and another man on crutches.)
The army said the device exploded near the fence, possibly wounding several Palestinians.
The second photo showed what the IDF said was an attempt by Palestinians to use a kite to fly a Molotov Cocktail toward IDF soldiers or beyond them to set Israeli agricultural fields alight.
On man was killed and more than 122 Palestinians had been wounded by Israeli gunfire by late afternoon, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said. Most were injured east of Gaza City, but two were hurt in clashes near Al-Bureij in central Gaza.
A total of 528 people had been treated, most of them for tear gas inhalation, the ministry said. This included ten medics who were treated after a canister landed in their site, it said.
Two journalists were wounded by gunfire, the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate said, a week after a Gazan journalist was killed. Israel said the journalist was a Hamas member, but offered no proof.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Friday evening that the week-by-week drop in the number of Palestinians protesting along the Gaza border was due to Israel’s “determination” to quash the violent demonstrations.
“Each week there are fewer rioters on our border with Gaza. Our determination is well understood on the other side,” he tweeted Friday.
Liberman also praised Israeli Defense Forces troops for their “professional and moral work” guarding the Gaza border.
“Thanks to you citizens of Israel can continue [their] routine and a small and hypocritical minority can even protest against you,” he said, referring to video of left-wing activists calling soldiers near Gaza “terrorists.”
In northern Gaza, a large Israeli flag was burned that had earlier been set on the ground for protesters to walk over. Other Israeli flags were also burned. Demonstrators also carried Israeli flags with pictures of the soldiers and civilians captured and held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Palestinians also sought to pull away barbed wire set up by Israeli forces to keep them away from the fence, an AFP journalist said.
Organizers had called on Friday’s demonstrators to burn Israeli flags and raise Palestinian ones.
The IDF had deployed snipers and tanks along the border in readiness for another showdown with the Hamas-backed demonstrators.
Friday’s protest is the third of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said will be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
— صوت الأقصى (@Alaqsavoice) April 13, 2018
Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The previous week there were an estimated 30,000 protesters.
Thirty-four Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel and attempt to carry out attacks. Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
Israel’s defense minister has warned that protesters approaching the border fence endanger their lives, drawing condemnation from rights groups that said such seemingly broad open-fire rules are unlawful.
The Israeli rights group Breaking The Silence published a statement by five former IDF snipers who said they were “filled with shame and sorrow” over the recent incidents at the Gaza border. “Instructing snipers to shoot to kill unarmed demonstrators who pose no danger to human life, is another product of the occupation and military rule over millions of Palestinian people, as well as of our country’s callous leadership, and derailed moral path,” said the statement.
The group has been criticized in Israel for publishing often anonymous testimony by current or former Israeli soldiers who have misgivings about their military service and treatment of Palestinians. The five ex-snipers in Friday’s statement were identified by name.
The idea of mass protests was initially floated by Palestinian social media activists in Gaza, but was later co-opted by Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, with the backing of smaller terror groups. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
The White House has called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel.
Gaza leaders have planned the so-called Marches of Return to culminate in a million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation. The “Return” refers to Palestinians’ demand that tens of thousands of refugees and their millions of descendants be allowed to live in today’s Israel, an influx that would spell the end of Israel as the world’s sole Jewish-majority state.
Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
Egypt on Thursday opened its largely sealed border with the blockaded Gaza Strip for three days, Palestinian authorities said. In the fourth such opening this year, the Rafah crossing to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will be open until Saturday for humanitarian cases, the interior ministry in Gaza said.
Tensions have flared since the beginning of the protests.
On Thursday, the IDF said it bombed Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip, after an explosive device detonated near an Israeli army vehicle along the border on Wednesday. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said one Gazan was killed and another seriously wounded in the strike.
During that airstrike, Hamas gunmen targeted an Israeli aircraft with machine gun fire, and one of the bullets hit a family’s home in Kibbutz Sha’ar Hanegev as it fell back to earth. The gunfire triggered rocket sirens in the area, and the family rushed to a reinforced room inside their home. The bullet landed in the house’s shower. There were no injuries but light damage was caused to the roof and internal ceiling of the home.