The Israeli army on Friday released video footage showing what it said was a bid by hundreds of Palestinians to breach the Gaza Strip’s border fence with Israel. The confrontation, which drew IDF fire, was one of the most violent incidents yet in five weeks of protests.
Three people were killed and over 300 hurt in Friday’s rallies, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it “thwarted” an attempted infiltration by Palestinian protesters.
It said “hundreds of rioters” tried to burn the fence and enter Israel. It said the crowd threw explosives, firebombs and rocks, and that troops opened fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and halted the crowd.
Video footage showed a young Palestinian man placing a burning tire along the fence in an apparent attempt to set it on fire. In other scenes, a small group lobs stones at an Israeli military vehicle on the other side of the fence.
The footage also showed large numbers of Gazans close to the border fence.
Footage filmed inside Gaza showed youths at a barbed wire fence, being urged to “cut, cut.”
In other incidents Friday, the military said Palestinian crowds rolled burning tires, hurled rocks and flew kites with flaming objects attached with the goal of damaging the fence and other Israeli targets.
The IDF also released a photo appearing to show a group of youths tugging at barbed wire along the fence.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach, in which Gazans would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Gaza officials said about half of the 300 wounded Friday were hit by live fire, with the other half hurt by tear gas.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited a protest camp in the southern town of Rafah, vowing larger protests in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and among Palestinian refugees in other countries on May 15. “Our people will not slow down the protests until they get their rights,” he said.
Haniyeh, who was photographed holding a slingshot, declared that the protests “have confused the enemy” and that they constitute “part of the route to liberation.”
Hamas officials were quoted on Hadashot TV news on Saturday saying they would try to expand the protests to the West Bank in coming weeks, and that they would continue past mid-May when the US is to open its embassy in Jerusalem to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence (according to the Gregorian calendar).
The weekly protests, which are backed and encouraged by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, were originally dubbed by their Palestinian organizers as nonviolent, but Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, publicly supported the protests and declared that their ultimate goal was to erase the border and liberate Palestine.
The Israeli army says its troops only open fire at demonstrators who engage in violence, or who attempt to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel. Palestinian videos have emerged that purport to show soldiers shooting protesters who did not pose a threat. The army has accused Hamas of fabricating video footage or releasing only partial clips.
The military also says Hamas is using the protests as cover to damage the border fence and prepare to infiltrate and carry out attacks.
According to Gaza’s health ministry the latest deaths brought the death toll in the border clashes since March 30 to 44, with over 1,500 said injured by live fire.
Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained for acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.