Five Palestinians were said killed and 170 injured Friday during riots along the Gaza border fence, the Hamas-run health ministry said, as violence continued despite expectations of quiet along the turbulent frontier. The IDF said helicopters and aircraft hit three Hamas sites during protests.
One of the fatalities, named as Jaber Abu Hemesa, died east of El Bureij, in the central part of the Strip, when a hand grenade he was holding exploded accidentally, witnesses said.
The Hamas ministry said 27-year-old Muhammad al-Nabi was shot in the head during protests near Jabaliya in northern Gaza.
It identified three other fatalities as Nasser Abu Taim, 22, Aish Sha’ath, 23, Ahmed Abu Lebda, 22, and said they were killed in separate incidents near Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
The Israeli army did not comment on the deaths but said approximately 16,000 “demonstrators and rioters” were gathered along the border. “The rioters hurled grenades, firebombs and rocks and lit tires on fire,” the IDF said.
“During the events, IDF attack helicopters and IDF aircraft targeted three Hamas military posts in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said, adding that Palestinians briefly breached the fence in two places.
The protesters took part in the protests in several locations under the banner of “Gaza won’t surrender,” setting fire to tires, throwing rocks and explosives at soldiers near the border and attempting to break down the fence.
The Palestinians continued with their weekly Friday riots along the fence despite Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman saying earlier that he was “hopeful” that the Gaza Strip would be calm over the coming weekend. This was after reports of a ceasefire being brokered by Egypt.
“I am hopeful and I anticipate that this Friday will pass more quietly — that’s what we need to hope for,” the defense minister said.
Liberman made his remarks in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, next to the Gaza border, where he met with the heads of local governments to discuss the current strained security situation in the Strip following weeks of heightened tensions and two major flareups that threatened to lead Israel and the Hamas terror group to war.
Weekly large-scale riots and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have become a mainstay along the Strip’s security fence since March 30, as part of a Hamas-led effort known as the “March of Return.”
These demonstrations take place each Friday, regularly sending massive amounts of thick smoke into the Israeli communities nearby, as Palestinians burn tires along the border and send incendiary devices affixed to balloons into Israel to spark fires.
The period since March 30 has also included a number of significant flareups and extended clashes, including earlier this week, which saw a rocket attack aimed at southern Israel. Another rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing significant damage, but no injuries as the family inside had reached their bomb shelter in time.
In recent weeks, the situation along the border has grown more precarious, as indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas — with the Egyptian military and United Nations acting as intermediaries — have reached a critical turning point.
Israel has called for a cessation to all violence, including both the clashes on the border and the daily arson attacks that have burned large swaths of land in the south, in exchange for certain economic incentives and an easing of the blockade around the coastal enclave, which is imposed by Israel to prevent Hamas importing weapons.
The Arabic-language, London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Friday reported that Egypt and the UN had brokered such a deal, under which Palestinians would be able to continue their weekly demonstrations at the border with Israel, but will not commit acts of violence, such as trying to breach the border, launching cross-border incendiary balloons, or throwing explosives at Israeli troops along the fence.
According to the report, Israel pledged in return to expand the maritime zone for permitted fishing off the Gaza coast, to allow additional fuel into the coastal enclave in order to increase the amount of electricity supplied, and to allow the UN to carry out infrastructure projects in Gaza.
Liberman appeared to confirm that parts of this report were correct, but did not comment on all aspects.
“Yesterday and today, Qatari fuel trucks entered [Gaza], but one calm Friday in one weekend is still not a change,” he said.
The defense minister called for a month of calm in Gaza before more significant changes would take place.
“In order to see a trend, we need to see what happens at least until the end of November, and then we can reach conclusions one way or another,” he said.
Liberman said the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group’s ability to control the level of violence along the fence — as seen from the relatively calm protests last week, after a ceasefire was reached after a flareup — was proof that these demonstrations were not a grassroots effort, but were a coordinated tactic.
“There is no ‘popular protest,’ rather there is organized violence that they control,” the defense minister said.
“When they want to raise the level of violence, they raise it. When they want to lower it, they lower it. No one comes to the fence by foot, they are all brought in transportation organized by Hamas,” he said.
Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.