Thousands of Palestinian demonstrators held violent protests along the Gaza Strip’s border and in the West Bank Friday afternoon, hours after a rocket barrage from the Hamas-run territory disrupted a ceremony for a slain Israeli soldier held by the Gaza terror group.
Riots were reported in nine different locations along the Gaza border, with demonstrators hurling rocks at Israeli security forces and in some instances attempting to damage the border fence, the army said.
Soldiers responded with non-lethal means, as well as with live fire in several incidents in which the army said central instigators were targeted. Health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza said around 40 people were hurt, with four in serious condition.
Violent demonstrations were also reported in numerous places in the West Bank, with protesters throwing rocks, setting tires on fire, and hurling Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces. Security forces were responding with tear gas and other riot dispersal means, the army said.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least 16 people were wounded when Israeli troops fired live bullets during demonstrations, while others were hit with rubber-coated rounds.
Mass demonstrations have become a weekly occurrence since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6. However, the protests have been dwindling in size from week to week, and Reuters reported that numbers appeared to be further diluted on the fourth weekend of riots.
Trump has described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital as merely based on reality. He has stressed that the final status of the city is up for negotiation in any future peace talks.
Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has responded by calling for a new intifada against Israel, urging Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers. It has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence regularly since the announcement. Its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain that the group is seeking to intensify violence against Israel.
Earlier Friday, Gaza terrorists fired three rockets from Gaza at Israel, in what appeared to be an attack deliberately timed to coincide with a ceremony marking the 24th birthday of an IDF soldier who was killed in the Gaza war of 2014, and whose remains are held by Hamas.
The rockets were fired at the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Hanegev regions of southern Israel on Friday afternoon. Two of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while the third struck near a building in a community in the area, causing damage.
The launches were also directed toward the area where the ceremony was being held, at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, overlooking the place where Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul was killed in 2014. They sent audience members scrambling for cover, though the the ceremony was later resumed.
In response to the rockets Israeli tanks and aircraft hit two posts belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip. A spokesman for the Hamas-run health ministry said nobody was injured by the Israeli fire.
AFP contributed to this report.