Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Friday that a drop in the number of Palestinians protesting along the Gaza border was due to Israel’s “determination” to quash the violent demonstrations.
Liberman’s comment came as some 10,000-15,000 Palestinians took part in large-scale riots in the Gaza Strip Friday for the third consecutive week, with the army saying protesters hurled an explosive device and firebombs at Israeli troops deployed at the border, as well as making “several attempts” to damage the fence between Israel and Gaza and cross over into Israeli territory.
“Each week there are fewer rioters on our border with Gaza. Our determination is well understood on the other side,” he tweeted Friday.
Liberman also thanked Israeli Defense Forces troops for their “professional and moral work” guarding the Gaza border.
“Thanks to you citizens of Israel can continue [their] routine and a small and hypocritical minority can even protest against you,” he said, referring to a video of left-wing activists calling soldiers near Gaza “terrorists.”
Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The previous week there were an estimated 30,000 protesters.
During Friday’s protest, the army said demonstrators also tried to breach and cross the barrier and carried out a number of attacks, including throwing Molotov cocktails and explosives at Israeli soldiers.
Protesters torched tires and burned large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky. They also burned pictures of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The army, which has accused Hamas and other terror groups of utilizing the smoke as cover for efforts to bomb the border, said it used live fire and crowd dispersal methods in accordance with IDF open-fire regulations. Military sources quoted by Channel 10 said IDF snipers had orders to fire at the ankles of violent attackers.
“The IDF will not permit damage to the security fence or infrastructure that protects Israeli citizens and will act against the violent rioters and terrorists involved,” the army said.
More than 122 Palestinians had been wounded by Israeli gunfire by late afternoon, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said, with one shot in the head. Most were injured east of Gaza City, but two were hurt in clashes near Al-Bureij in central Gaza.
A total of 528 people had been treated, most of them for tear gas inhalation, the ministry said. This included 10 medics who were treated after a canister landed in their site, it said.
Two journalists were wounded by gunfire, the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate said, a week after a Gazan journalist was killed. Israel said the journalist was a Hamas member, but offered no proof.
Israel did not confirm these figures.
Friday’s protest is the third of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said will be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
Thirty-four Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel and attempt to carry out attacks. Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
The idea of mass protests was initially floated by Palestinian social media activists in Gaza, but was later co-opted by Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, with the backing of smaller terror groups. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
Gaza leaders have planned the so-called Marches of Return to culminate in a million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
The “Return” refers to Palestinians’ demand that tens of thousands of refugees and their millions of descendants be allowed to live in today’s Israel, an influx that would spell the end of Israel as the world’s sole Jewish-majority state.
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.
Agencies contributed to this report.