Israel hits Hamas sites with tanks, jets after Gazans fire on troops

No soldiers injured in most serious exchange capping violent day along border; IDF says shooting from inside Strip proves terrorists using protests as cover to carry out attacks

A picture taken on March 30, 2018 shows Palestinians fleeing as tear gas grenades begin to drop during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
A picture taken on March 30, 2018 shows Palestinians fleeing as tear gas grenades begin to drop during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Israeli tanks and planes bombed Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip Friday evening after troops came under fire amid intense day-long clashes on the border.

The Israel Defense Forces said it targeted three sites belonging to Hamas with tanks and from the air. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the attack, which came as the death toll in clashes along the border rose to 15, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The reprisal attack came after troops were shot at by two Gazans approaching the security fence. No Israeli troops were hurt in the exchange, the IDF said.

“In response, IDF troops immediately fired according to the rules of engagement, targeting the terrorists,” the IDF said in a statement. The army would not say if the two Gazan gunmen were hit.

The IDF said troops also fired at suspects who had infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip via the security fence. The statement did not say if the suspects were still in Israeli territory.

A picture taken on March 30, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border from the Gaza strip shows Palestinians participating in a tent city protest. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The army earlier said troops were firing on suspects who approached the border fence and who it said it feared were using the chaos of Friday’s large demonstrations as cover to plant bombs or infiltrate into Israel.

A spokesperson said the shooting attack was “further proof that the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip use these violent riots in order to camouflage terror.”

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for violent riots and everything taking place under its auspices. The IDF will not allow the security fence to be turned into an area of terror,” the spokesperson added.

The cross-border exchange capped a day that saw some 30,000 Gazans protest at several points along the security fence, as part of a so-called March of Return that is expected to last six weeks, with Gazans camping in tent cities near the security fence ahead of a larger protest planned for mid-May.

Israeli snipers prepare for massive protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the potential for demonstrators to try to breach the security fence on March 30, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Gazan sources said sixteen people were killed and over 1,000 more injured in the fighting. The army said protesters hurled firebombs and stones at troops and burned tires. Many of the injuries came from rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, though the IDF used live ammunition as well.

The IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said the IDF 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 in a late afternoon statement.

The shooting attack, which came as the darkness fell Friday, came shortly after an army official said troops would remain deployed along the border amid fears of persistent attacks.

The official said this could include any number of things, including attempts to infiltrate the border, attacks with improvised explosive devices or rocket fire.

“We are ready for any scenario,” an official said.

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