Military and administrative officials toured the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing with the Gaza Strip Saturday, a day after Palestinian rioters torched gas pipes serving the territory as well as electricity infrastructure and a conveyor belt used to transfer goods into the Strip.
The damage to the crossing is thought to be in the tens of millions of shekels.
On unnamed official told the Ynet news site, “We were astonished by the devastation and destruction Palestinians left in their wake. They’re bringing a disaster upon themselves.”
Kerem Shalom is the only goods crossing between Israel and Gaza, which already suffers from a severe energy shortage.
Officials said the crossing may need to be closed down for several days while the damage is assessed and dealt with.
Friday’s vandalism at the crossing was a repeat of a similar incident on May 4, when demonstrators broke into the Palestinian side of the crossing and damaged pipelines carrying gas and oil into Gaza.
“This is a cynical act that harms the welfare of Gaza residents and the humanitarian efforts carried out by Israel and many other countries,” the army said at the time.
Around 15,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel Friday, in the final weekly “March of Return” before next week’s Nakba Day events on May 14 and 15, when the violent demonstrations are expected to reach their peak.
The Israeli army said violent protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers at five major points along the border. Troops were attacked with pipe bombs, grenades, rocks, and burning tires. Rioters also attempted to sabotage “security infrastructure,” the army said.
Several flaming kites were flown over the fence by demonstrators, sparking blazes in Israeli territory. Israeli officials said the fires were under control.
The army said it used live fire in several incidents against violent demonstrators.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said a 40-year-old man was killed after being shot in the chest east of Khan Younis, in the south of the Strip. The ministry said 146 people were injured by live fire — at least eight seriously, another several dozen moderately, and several dozen lightly.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said Thursday he hopes to see hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel at next week’s protests to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.
The Hamas-encouraged demonstrations are ostensibly aimed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.
Israel says, however, that the terror group uses the protests as a cover for attacks at the border and attempts to breach it.
According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.
Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained from acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
An Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
The Israeli military has faced international and domestic criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. 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.
Hamas has said if the protests “don’t achieve their goals,” they will continue.
Agencies contributed to this report.