The Lebanese Armed Forces dispersed dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who were heading toward Israel’s northern border Friday in solidarity with the “March of Return” protest taking place en masse in the Gaza Strip.
Carrying Palestinian flags, the protesters were moving toward the border fence near the Israeli town of Avivim. Lebanese soldiers managed to disperse them near the village of Maroun al Ras, some two kilometers before they reached the fence, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.
The news channel added that minor clashes ensued as a result.
Arabic social media account posted footage of soldiers pulling protesters away from the crowd, one at a time.
The launch of the protests came as Palestinians marked Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976. The day is often marked with marches and events by Palestinians in the region.
In 2011, Palestinians in Lebanon marched on the border in the same area, sparking clashes that left 10 protesters dead while similar incidents took place on the Syrian and Gazan borders. Israelis fear a repeat of the clashes during this year’s Nakba Day in mid-May, with Friday’s deadly violence in Gaza already presaging the possibility of renewed border chaos.
Over 30,000 Palestinians took part in protests across the Gaza Strip collectively dubbed the March of Return, on Friday, with the demonstrations planned to extend six weeks until Nakba Day on May 15.
גבול לבנון צבא לבנון מתעמת עם צערים שרוצים להגיע לגבול בין ישראל ללבנון להתעמת עם כוחות צהל pic.twitter.com/taNSzXivph
— ינון עידן (@1Haiden1) March 30, 2018
At least 15 people were killed and 1,400 more were injured in one of the most bloody days since the 2014 Gaza war, Palestinian officials said, kicking off what Gaza’s Hamas rulers envision as a six-week campaign of mass sit-ins and violent protests along the border, meant to spotlight the demand of uprooted Palestinians and their descendants to “return” to what is now Israel.
On Friday evening, Gazan leaders called on protesters to retreat from the border area until Saturday.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Saturday would be a day of mourning in memory of those killed.
The IDF said some of the protesters threw firebombs and rocks at troops in addition to rolling burning tires toward them.
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.
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The protests appeared to die down after sundown, but the army said it was remaining on high alert amid fears of persisting attacks, including infiltration attempts and rocket fire. Tanks and jets bombed Hamas sites in the early evening, after two Gazans opened fire on troops, the IDF said.
“This severe shooting attack is further proof that the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip use these violent riots in order to camouflage terror,” the IDF said in a statement, hours after a top general said terrorists were using the protests as cover for carrying out attacks.
Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, as did Turkey.
While Fatah supported the protests, which included much smaller demonstrations in the West Bank, Hamas was a key organizer, along with several other Palestinian groups.
The army said it held the Hamas terror group responsible for any violence along the Gaza security fence during the protests and for the “consequences” of it.
At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.