One Palestinian was killed and 30 were wounded as thousands gathered on the Gaza Strip border Friday for weekly protests, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. The violence was seen as a major test for the calm that has prevailed since intense fighting last weekend between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.
Some 6,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations at five locations along the border. Several hundred people were rioting, throwing explosives and rocks at Israeli forces. IDF soldiers responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.
Twenty-four-year-old Abdullah Abed al-A’al was killed on the border near the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Gaza’s health ministry reported. It said 30 were wounded by live fire in the clashes.
The IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman shared footage from the clashes near the southern Gaza city of Rafah on his Twitter account, which appeared to show Palestinians attempting to damage the border fence.
هذا هو المشهد بعد ظهر اليوم في منطقة #رفح خلال أعمال الشغب على #السياج_الأمني. أحداث عنف كبيرة ومحاولات خطيرة للمساس بالسياج بالاضافة الى استعمال وسائل إرهابية. هذه الأحداث تنتج بيئة تتسم بالعنف والإرهاب والتي تختلف تمامًا عن مصلحة سكان قطاع #غزة وخاصةً في شهر #رمضان المبارك pic.twitter.com/mifdvLEDvf
— افيخاي ادرعي (@AvichayAdraee) May 10, 2019
Ahead of the protests, UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov spoke with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The two discussed efforts to implement understandings reportedly reached between Israel and Hamas to prevent renewed violence, the Kan public broadcaster quoted Haniyeh’s office as saying.
Israel has refused to officially confirm the ceasefire understandings.
Along with Egypt and Qatar, the UN’s Mladenov has played a lead role in brokering talks on a truce between Israel and Hamas and reaching understandings to end flare-ups between the sides that have broken out periodically since the start of the March of Return border protests last March.
An Egyptian security delegation arrived in Gaza late Thursday to monitor implementation of the Cairo-brokered truce, a Hamas official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In addition to the border rioting, a fire broke out Friday in the nearby Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Authorities were probing if the blaze was started by an incendiary balloon flown from the Gaza Strip, Hebrew media reported.
Earlier Friday, Israel began easing restrictions on Gaza put in place amid the latest fighting, including reopening a 12 nautical mile fishing zone off the coast of the Strip. It also reopened the crossings into and out of Gaza at midnight Thursday, after they had been closed for Memorial Day and Independence Day, as is standard practice.
COGAT, the Defense Ministry body that liaises with the Palestinians, said in a statement late Thursday that the fishing zone expansion is “part of the civilian policy for prevention of deterioration in humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and is consistent with the policy of distinguishing between terrorists and the general population.”
The statement warned that security forces would “handle any deviation” from the agreement.
Israel expanded the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles in some areas off Gaza’s coast in early April, but subsequently reduced and then canceled the move in response to rocket fire.
The move is thought to be part of a ceasefire agreement reached indirectly between Israel and Palestinian terror groups late Sunday, ending two days that saw almost 700 rockets fired into Israel and hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes by Israel’s air force.
Palestinian terror factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced the ceasefire agreement, but Israel has not officially made any comment, in line with its policy of ambiguity regarding such deals.
Four Israelis were killed by projectiles fired from Gaza on Sunday in some of the heaviest fighting seen in years. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 29 people were killed in the Strip. At least 11 of those were Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists, according to the groups.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the fighting in Gaza has not ended.
Representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also threatened to resume fighting if the ceasefire deal is not implemented.
An Israeli military official said earlier this week that authorities were pressed to end the fighting before the national holidays that ended Thursday and Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest next week. The official warned that fighting could resume soon after in the absence of measures aimed at easing humanitarian assistance to those in the Strip.
AFP contributed to this report.