Thousands of Israelis rally near Gaza for return of soldiers’ bodies

On the other side of the border, Palestinians clash with Israeli troops, with 1 Gazan reportedly killed by a device he was holding

Israelis take part in a rally near the Gaza border calling for the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas on July 6, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Israelis take part in a rally near the Gaza border calling for the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas on July 6, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Thousands of Israelis took part in a rally Friday near the Gaza Strip calling for the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers held by Hamas, while nearby, on the other side of the border, a Palestinian was reported killed when a device he was holding exploded.

Some 4,000 people took part in the Israeli event, waving Israeli flags and flying blue kites in a peaceful counter to the flaming airborne devices launched at Israel in recent months from Gaza.

Demonstrators called on the government to retrieve the remains of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whose bodies were captured by the Hamas terror group after they were killed in Gaza during the 2014 war.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is afraid of terrorism, gives prizes to Hamas and surrenders to its demands time after time,” Tzur Goldin, Hadar’s brother, was quoted by Channel 10 news as saying.

He also rejected releasing Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for Shaul and Goldin’s bodies. “We repeat that returning terrorists is not the only way to bring back our soldiers and citizens,” Tzur Goldin said.

In addition to Shaul and Goldin, Hamas is also holding Israeli citizens Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who each entered Gaza on their own accord.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, is keeping the Israelis as bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange in which it would seek to secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.

Proposals recently reported in Israeli and Arab media have indicated Israel is willing to take a number of steps to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but will not do so without the return of the bodies of Shaul and Goldin. There is a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the enclave faces a lack of electricity, potable water and food.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday Israel will not enable the Strip’s rehabilitation until the return of Shaul and Goldin’s bodies. He spoke at a memorial ceremony for troops killed in the 2014 Gaza war, which was boycotted by the Shaul and Goldin families in protest of Hamas’s continued possession of the soldiers’ remains.

Separately Friday, a few thousand Palestinians were reported to be taking part in the weekly “March of Return” protests on the Gaza border.

Palestinians prepare to burn tires during the weekly ‘March of Return’ clashes on the Gaza border, east of Gaza City, on July 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

During clashes, a group of Palestinians approached the border fence near the Karni Crossing in northern Gaza with the intention of throwing an explosive device at Israeli troops, the army said. The device however exploded in Gaza, according to the IDF.

Palestinian eye witnesses said the man, 22-year-old Mohamad Jamal Abu Halima, was wounded when the device he was holding exploded.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Abu Halima died from shrapnel wounds to his chest, sustained in an explosion east of Gaza City. Qudra could not provide AFP with details on the source of the shrapnel.

Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the clashes, which began March 30, in order to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the border. Some 135 Palestinians have been reported killed since the start of the protests, dozens of whom were acknowledged by Gaza terror groups as their members.

AFP contributed to this report.

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