Serious violence averted as over 1,000 Palestinians protest on Gaza border

14 said injured in riot, following similar event over the weekend in which an Israeli border guard was shot in the head

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces along the border fence, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 25, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces along the border fence, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 25, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Over 1,000 Palestinians demonstrated on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Wednesday, burning tires and occasionally rushing the security fence, though the level of violence was largely kept in check by members of the Hamas terror group’s so-called restraint force.

The Israel Defense Forces, which deployed additional troops along the border ahead of the protest, responded with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons, like tear gas and stun grenades, as well as live fire in a small number of cases.

Fourteen Palestinians were injured during the demonstration, five of them from live rounds, two from rubber-coated bullets and seven from tear gas inhalation, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Tensions along the border have risen in recent weeks over growing unrest in the Strip at the slow progress of reconstruction following May’s 11-day conflict, known in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Israel has severely limited the transfer of building materials and other goods into Gaza as a means of pressuring its Hamas rulers to release two Israeli civilians they are holding, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers.

The past month has seen a return of balloon-borne incendiary devices being launched from Gaza into Israel, causing at least nine fires on Monday alone, as well as a rocket attack last Monday that was apparently in response to the deaths of four Palestinian men in a gun battle with IDF troops in the northern West Bank city of Jenin the night before.

The protest on Wednesday, held east of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, largely dissipated at sundown, without any major incidents or outbreaks of violence.

During a similar demonstration on Saturday, dozens of rioters rushed the security fence, apparently catching the Israeli troops stationed there off-guard. One man with a pistol opened fire into an IDF sniper position along the border, hitting a border guard in the head and critically wounding him.

Forty-one Palestinians were injured during Saturday’s riot, including a Hamas operative who succumbed to his wounds on Wednesday.

In light of the generally peaceful demonstration on Wednesday, Palestinian media in the Gaza Strip reported that Egypt was expected to at least partially reopen its Rafah crossing with the enclave, after Cairo shut the terminal on Sunday in response to the riot the day before.

Egypt has played an active role in maintaining the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, following May’s conflict. Hamas officials on Wednesday had told the Egyptian military that they planned to maintain order at the border protest, according to a report in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper.

Members of Palestinian security forces stand guard at the closed-off Rafah border crossing to Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 23, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Video footage from the Gazan side of the border showed Hamas operatives in yellow vests during the protests working to keep demonstrators from rushing the border.

The United States had also sent messages to Hamas demanding that the organization cease its provocations along the border, an Israeli official told reporters on Wednesday.

The IDF sent reinforcements to the Gaza border ahead of the protests, including two special forces units, a tank company and a number of snipers.

“In recent days, troops have been preparing massively, as specific plans were being approved, drills were performed at different points and reviews were held in the field. IDF troops will act aggressively against attempts at terror along the border,” the military said in a statement on Tuesday.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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