IDF says fence destroyed by Gazans was old, not at the border

IDF says fence destroyed by Gazans was old, not at the border

After videos surface of Palestinians taking apart barrier, military acknowledges the damage was worse than initially described, but maintains there was no mass border breach

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinian rioters tear down a section of fencing around the northern Gaza border on October 8, 2018. (Screen capture: Quds News)
Palestinian rioters tear down a section of fencing around the northern Gaza border on October 8, 2018. (Screen capture: Quds News)

The Israeli military on Tuesday acknowledged that Palestinians caused significant damage to one of the fences along the Gaza border, but maintained that there had not been a mass breach or destruction of “active” military equipment, after videos of the riots were aired on Palestinian television.

“The incident was kept under control through monitoring and the use of force from the beginning to the end and it never got out of control,” the army said.

On Monday, the military said thousands of Palestinians rioted along the border, throwing explosives and rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and live fire, in some cases.

Later in the day, videos of the clashes surfaced on Palestinian media, showing protesters tearing down pieces of a security fence and setting it on fire.

The military denied that this was on the border with Israel, saying it was “an old security fence” located inside Palestinian territory.

“There was not an infiltration into Israeli territory or damage to active security infrastructure during this incident,” the army said.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, in a separate event, a Palestinian rioter breached the border “for a short time.”

“He used a Molotov cocktail to set fire to an abandoned military post next to the fence. The post caught fire and was immediately extinguished. There were no injuries and the damage was only to the camouflage netting,” the army said.

The military later released footage of the infiltration, in which the man could be seen running to a sniper’s nest and throwing a firebomb at it, sparking a fire.

In addition, dozens of boats challenged the Israeli naval blockade and were intercepted by Israeli Navy boats.

There too, Israeli sailors used less-lethal riot dispersal weaponry and, in some instances, live fire, the army said.

The flotilla marked 11 years since Israel imposed a blockade on the Palestinian enclave in 2007, after Hamas came to power there. Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

In total, 29 Palestinians were wounded in Monday’s riots, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Eleven people were hit by Israeli live fire and six people were reportedly struck by tear gas canisters.

Eight Palestinians were hit by shrapnel, and four were treated for tear gas inhalation, the health ministry said.

The Israeli military confirmed that soldiers hit “dozens” of rioters during the clashes with tear gas and live fire.

Fathi Hamad, the Hamas terror group’s former interior minister in the Strip, spoke to protesters near the flotilla and called, “To all those who hesitate, take up arms and fight Israel in the West Bank,” Channel 10 news reported.

Hamas’s former interior minister Fathi Hamad (YouTube screenshot)

Meanwhile Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said Monday evening that they had been called to extinguish one fire caused by an incendiary balloon flown into Israel from Gaza.

Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.

As the talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was working to prevent another round of violence in the Gaza Strip, but would not tolerate the situation continuing and was prepared to go to war to stop it.

“We are trying to find a solution that will bring back the calm and security to residents of the Gaza periphery,” he said.

“I think [Hamas] understands that another outbreak of violence would exact a very high price from the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinians throw stones toward Israeli forces during clashes along border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on September 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Netanyahu spoke during the weekly cabinet meeting of the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to “choke” Gaza, according to the TV report, and said: “If the reality of civil distress in Gaza is diminished, that is desirable, but that is not certain to happen, and so we are preparing militarily — that is not an empty statement.”

Angered by the fuel provided to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by Qatar, PA President Mahmoud Abbas was said on Saturday to be planning on cutting the flow of funds to the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Senior defense officials told Hadashot that Abbas was particularly frustrated with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Nikolay Mladenov, who facilitated the transfer despite the PA president’s staunch objections.

The halt of some $96 million that the PA sends monthly to the Gaza Strip could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel, security officials told the news channel. Moreover, they expressed concern that the violence could expand into the West Bank.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that Abbas had a tense phone call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in which the latter warned Abbas that additional measures against the Gaza Strip would endanger the security of Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Abbas was said to have responded defiantly by saying, “It is the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood state in Gaza that is endangering the national security of Egypt, not me and my policies,” in a reference to Hamas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)

Qatar’s transfer of funds to Gaza is intended to allow six months of increased fuel to Gaza’s only power plant — which will allow more hours of electricity to the beleaguered Strip.

The majority of households in Gaza receive an average of three to four hours of electricity a day. The new funds would double that amount to around eight hours a day.

Israel officials hope that alleviating one of Gaza’s worst electricity shortages in recent years will diminish the chances of full-blown military confrontation in the Strip, according to a Haaretz report.

However, Israel has also taken steps to punish Gazans for the recent flareup of violence. On Saturday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered Gaza’s fishing zones constrained due to the escalation of border violence along the southern frontier.

The fishing zone will be curtailed from nine to six nautical miles, the Defense Ministry said, following deliberations between Liberman and defense officials.

The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate at the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip on October 3, 2018. (AFP/Said KHATIB)

Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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