Israel on Friday used new technology to counter violent protests along the Gaza border, with Border Police using small drones to drop tear gas on Palestinian protesters.
An AFP correspondent saw a drone release around 10 gas canisters as protesters on the border with Israel cursed the small craft. People quickly scattered when they saw the drones approaching.
A police spokesman acknowledged operational deployment of the new technology.
A number of people were injured by the containers, which fell from a height of between 10 and 20 meters (30-60 feet), the AFP correspondent said.
Use of unmanned aerial vehicles to launch tear gas is a recent innovation, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“It was used a few weeks ago around the Gaza Strip area and it is also being used today, in order to prevent protesters getting to the Gaza crossing or Gaza border,” he said.
“It’s a mini-drone which has the capability of flying over certain zones and certain areas and then letting go of tear gas in areas that we want to prevent protesters from reaching.”
Tens of thousands of Gazans took to the streets Friday in mass protests calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that their ancestors fled from in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Friday’s clashes were the deadliest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War. Israeli troops used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to keep thousands of Gazans from trying to approach the border fence. The military said protesters threw firebombs and rocks at soldiers, rolled burning tires at them and in one incident opened fire.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 16 Palestinians were killed and over 1,400 injured by Israel during the mass protests.
IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said the army faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. “All the fatalities were aged 18-30, several of the fatalities were known to us, and at least two of them were members of Hamas commando forces,” he said.
Israel was condemned by the Muslim world over the violence, with many accusing it of using “disproportionate force” against Palestinian rioters.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Friday for “an independent and transparent investigation” into the deadly clashes as Security Council members urged restraint and a lowering of tensions on both sides.
Israeli envoy to the UN Danny Danon told the Security Council that Hamas was intentionally endangering the lives of innocent civilians, and urged member states not to be “deceived” by the terrorist group.
Terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who played a major role in the organization of Friday’s mass protests, urged Palestinians to continue the large demonstrations, which are expected to last six weeks and culminate in mid-May, when the US is slated to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said the demonstrations would continue until there was no longer a border.
Hamas is an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel. It seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah in 2007.