An IDF tank shelled a Hamas post in the Gaza Strip on Friday after several Palestinians breached the border fence during large protests, throwing fire bombs, the army said. One Palestinian was killed and 26 Palestinians were reportedly injured during clashes along the border.
The clashes came amid reports that the Strip’s Hamas rulers were considering accepting the terms of a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Strip, most of the protesters were injured by IDF snipers during separate “March of Return” demonstrations east of Gaza City and in Khan Younis.
The army said some 8,000 people took part in the protests at five sites along the border. It said the army responded with riot disposal means and live fire in accordance with appropriate rules of engagement.
In one incident several Palestinians crossed the border fence, entered Israeli territory at the Kerem Shalom crossing, and threw fire bombs and stones, before fleeing back into Gaza. “In response an IDF tank shelled a post belonging to the Hamas terror group.”
Friday’s protests were held in memory of Mohammad Tareq, the Palestinian terrorist who murdered an Israeli man in a terror attack in the West Bank last week.
Organizers urged Gazans to attend Friday’s protests “in order to convey a message that Palestinians will not surrender to the dictates of Israeli terrorism until the siege is lifted,” the Haaretz daily reported.
For over three months, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to the most serious escalation between the two sides since the 2014 war.
The deadly clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, one Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.
According to the Gaza health ministry, 157 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the “March of Return” protests on March 30. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.
The protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.
On Friday firefighters worked to extinguish 16 blazes caused by incendiary balloons across Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said.
The confrontations have at times spiraled into military exchanges, with Palestinians firing dozens of rockets at southern Israeli towns and the army launching air strikes on Hamas positions in Gaza.
Meanwhile, United Nations envoy for Middle East peace in recent months has been working with Egyptian officials to broker a long-term ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
Nickolay Mladenov’s proposal would see Israel remove recent restrictions on the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods into Gaza, and the sides agreeing to a ceasefire which would include the cessation of airborne arson attacks.
On Friday, Lebanese news paper Al-Akhbar reported that senior Hamas officials were considering the Egyptian-backed deal.
The first stage would begin within a week and include “the end of the provocations along the border, or in other words, the phenomena of the flaming kites, border crossing operations and setting fire to border posts,” the report said.
In return, the Kerem Shalom and Rafah border crossings from Israel and Egypt, respectively, would be reopened on a permanent basis.
The second phase would focus on “the improvement of living conditions and the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza’s residents,” the entry of all goods and a boost to electricity supplied through Israeli power lines into the Strip.
In the third phase, the UN would implement long-proposed humanitarian projects like the establishment of a port in Ismailia, Egypt, that would serve Gaza, and operating an airport in Egypt and an electric power station in the Sinai Peninsula, all for the use of Gazans.
According to Al-Akhbar, Hamas’s leadership, including its Shura Council, or parliament, is expected to convene a vote on the proposal in upcoming meetings.
The deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, Saleh al-Arouri, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Thursday for talks focused on renewed reconciliation efforts with Fatah and to raise the truce prospects with the terror group’s Gazan leadership.
Israel Radio reported that Arouri and other visiting members of Hamas’ foreign leadership attended the fence protests on Friday.
The emerging deal is facing opposition from the families of Israeli fallen soldiers and civilians held in Gaza, who appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders urging them to include the release of Israelis in any deal with Hamas.
The Israeli security cabinet is set to meet Sunday to discuss the possible ceasefire deal.