A Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli forces as he broke through the Gaza security fence on Tuesday, as tensions continued days after at least 16 people were reported killed in a mass border demonstration.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry identified the dead man as 25-year-old Ahmed Arafa, saying he was shot in the chest during clashes east of Bureij in central Gaza. The military wing of the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) terrorist group identified him as a member.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that it used live fire against a group of Palestinians who broke through the security fence during the protest.
Surveillance camera footage, provided by the army, showed one person smashing the fence with what appears to be a metal pipe. He is joined by four others, two of whom go through a hole in the fence. Then it appears warning shots were fired.
The two men run back into Gaza, and once they are through the fence the video cuts out. It was unclear when Arafa was shot.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, dozens of Palestinians took part in “violent riots in four locations along the Gaza Strip.”
The army said it used mostly less-lethal riot dispersal measures against the demonstrators — tear gas and rubber bullets — but used live rounds against the people who sabotaged the fence.
“The IDF will not allow security infrastructure and the fence, which protects Israeli citizens to be damaged, and we will take action against terrorists who are involved,” the army said in a statement.
“We again warn against approaching the fence,” the IDF added.
On Friday, over 30,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, in what Israel describes as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.
There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures. Over 1,000 were reported injured.
Violent protests have been staged every day since Friday’s mass demonstration, though on a far smaller level, usually involving a few dozen people. Nevertheless, the army has remained on high alert in the area out of concerns that terror groups could capitalize on the tensions and carry out attacks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel will not be changing its policies toward Palestinians rioting along the Gaza security fence and brushed off criticism that the army used a heavy hand during Friday’s protests.
“We have set clear rules of the game and we do not intend to change them. Anyone who approaches the fence endangers his life, and I would recommend that Gaza residents put their efforts not into protesting against Israel, but into regime change within the Strip,” Liberman said during a tour of Israeli communities just outside the coastal enclave.
“I think the [Israel Defense Forces] operated exceptionally well, as expected, and I have no doubt that we will continue to act in the same way in the days to come,” he added.
Speaking to local leaders and the heads of security for the communities, the defense minister defended the army’s actions. “It needs to be understood that the majority of the people killed were terrorists whom we know well, operatives in the military arm of Hamas, as well as in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These weren’t innocent civilians who came as part of a civil protest,” Liberman said.
The IDF on Saturday named and detailed 10 of the dead as members of terror groups including Hamas. (Hamas, an Islamist terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, had earlier acknowledged five of them were its members.) Islamic Jihad later claimed an 11th.
The defense minister put the blame for Friday’s violence solely on Hamas.
“We didn’t initiate any provocations against the residents of Gaza; we protect our residents,” he said.
Asked what the IDF was anticipating for this upcoming Friday, when Hamas has called for renewed clashes on the border, the defense minister said he “didn’t want to make an assessment. We are prepared for every scenario.”
The United States on Saturday blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, diplomats said.
The draft council statement also expressed “grave concern at the situation at the border.” And it reaffirmed “the right to peaceful protest” and expressed the council’s “sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.”
Council members “called upon all sides to exercise restraint and prevent a further escalation,” the draft said. The proposed statement stressed the need to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.
On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties.” He also called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths and injuries during Friday’s clashes.
TOI staff contributed to this report.