State attorneys on Sunday defended the army’s use of live ammunition during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators on the border with the Gaza Strip, saying the rules of engagement are within Israeli and international law, and that the riots cannot be considered simple civilian demonstrations.
Attorneys were responding to two petitions filed by rights organizations concerning the open fire regulations employed by the Israel Defense Forces when confronting the protests, which have been encouraged by the Hamas terror group.
Four people were killed and over 300 hurt in violent protests on Friday, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry said, as thousands of Palestinians converged on the border with Israel for a fifth round of weekly protests.
“The security forces’ rules of engagement in the area of the security barrier are in line with Israeli law and international law,” the state’s response read.
The petitions were filed by groups including Adalah, which offers legal advice for Arab minorities in Israel, and the Yesh Din rights organization.
State attorneys said that it was wrong to classify the protests as civilian events as they are “part of the armed conflict between the Hamas terror group and Israel.”
The state asked that the petitions be rejected, claiming that their premise was “faulty and inadequate, both in how it relates to the content of the open fire order, and relating to the character and essence of the events.”
It also said that it would provide the court, ex parte, with the IDF rules of engagement and other relevant intelligence about the border incidents, the Ynet news site reported.
After the deadly clashes Friday, the IDF said in a statement that “hundreds of rioters” tried to burn the fence and enter the Israel. It said the crowd threw explosives, firebombs and rocks, and that troops opened fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and halted the crowd.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the border, in which Gazans would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Gaza officials said about half of the 300 wounded Friday were hit by live fire, with the other half hurt by tear gas.
The number of protesters appeared to be down from previous weeks. The demonstrations, dubbed the “March of Return,” have progressively dwindled, with the first event on March 30 drawing around 30,000 people, and last Friday’s rally managing only around a tenth of that.
Also Friday, Amnesty International called for an arms embargo against Israel which it accused of carrying out a “murderous assault” on Palestinians participating in the protests.
The protests, which are backed by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, were originally described by their Palestinian organizers as nonviolent, but Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, publicly supported the protests and declared that their ultimate goal was to erase the border and liberate Palestine. Rioters have burned tires, hurled firebombs and rocks at Israeli troops, flown flaming kites over the border and repeatedly attempted to sabotage the security fence.
The Israeli army says its troops only open fire at demonstrators who engage in violence, or who attempt to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel. Palestinian videos have emerged that purport to show soldiers shooting protesters who did not pose a threat. The army has accused Hamas of fabricating video footage or releasing only partial clips.
The military also says Hamas is using the protests as cover to damage the border fence and prepare to infiltrate and carry out attacks.
According to Gaza’s health ministry the latest deaths brought the death toll in the border clashes since March 30 to 44, with over 1,500 said injured by live fire.
Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained from acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.