The Israeli army accused the Hamas terrorist organization of sending a 7-year-old girl to the Gaza security fence during deadly protests in the coastal enclave on Friday.
According to the army, the young girl was spotted by soldiers as she approached the security fence. The troops, who were on the Israeli side, met the girl as she reached the fence, an army spokesperson said.
“When the IDF troops realized it was a girl, they picked her up and made sure that she could get back to her parents safely,” the army said. It did not say how it coordinated with girl’s parents on the Gaza side.
The army blamed Hamas for sending the child, though it provided no immediate evidence to back up the claim.
“Hamas cynically uses women and children, sending them to the fence and endangering their lives,” the army said in a statement.
The IDF’s Arabic spokesperson, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, wrote on Twitter to Gaza residents that Hamas was taking advantage of them by sending them to the border where they are “putting themselves in danger.” Palestinians said 15 people were killed and over 1,000 injured in clashes along the border Friday. The IDF Spokesman later said all of the dead were aged 18-30 and at least two of them were Hamas members.
“Hamas is using you and distracting your attention from its responsibility to take care of you and govern the Gaza Strip. Hamas is sacrificing you to move forward with useless agendas and wasting millions instead of investing in your well-being,” wrote Adraee.
“Don’t let Hamas use you! Don’t put yourselves in danger for nothing. You deserve a better future than what Hamas has planned! You deserve more than a reality of violence, incitement and terrorism,” he added.
More than 30,000 Palestinians took part in the protests at several locations along the Gaza security fence on Friday, according to IDF figures.
The military said rioters were setting tires and scraps of wood on fire and throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at the Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence.
The IDF troops retaliated mostly with less-lethal riot dispersal measures, notably tear gas and rubber bullets, but soldiers also fired live rounds at what the army described as “main instigators.”
The IDF did not confirm the Hamas death toll figures, but it did say that soldiers had shot at “main instigators.”
The military maintained that it would not allow Palestinian protesters to “violate Israel’s sovereignty” by crossing the security fence.
Some of the Palestinians killed by the IDF were suspected of trying to place improvised explosive devices along the Gaza border.
“We have identified attempts to carry out terror attacks using the protests as cover,” said Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, head of Israel’s Southern Command.
The main sites for protests in Gaza were Rafah and Khan Younis in the south, el-Bureij and Gaza City in the center, and Jabalya in the northern portion of the coastal enclave.
Via social media, leaflets dropped from airplanes and statements to news outlets, Israeli officials repeatedly warned Palestinians not to try to breach the security fence during the protests.
Early Friday, the army stationed additional infantry battalions and more than 100 snipers along the border in order to prevent that from happening. The Border Police and Israel Police also sent additional forces to southern Israel in order to act as a secondary defense line in case Palestinians made it past the soldiers along the border.
The IDF declared the area around the Israeli side of the Gaza border a “closed military zone,” forbidding Israeli civilians from getting close without army permission.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was leading the army’s riot control operation, with assistance from Zamir, as well as the head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
The army said it held the Hamas terror group responsible for any violence along the Gaza security fence during the protests and for the “consequences” of it.
Over the past few days, Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the volatile border with Israel ahead of the planned six-week “March of Return” protest that began on Friday.
Organizers said the protests would be peaceful but Israeli officials were wary of a fresh flareup along the enclave’s border. Hamas, the key organizer of the campaign, is an Islamist terror group that seeks the destruction of Israel.
The first protest kicked off on Friday, when Palestinians worldwide mark Land Day, which commemorates the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover festival.
Camping and protests in Gaza are expected to continue until mid-May, around the time the US is set to inaugurate its new embassy in Jerusalem — a move that has infuriated Palestinian leaders.
Mid-May will also mark the anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.