Around 15,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel Friday, in the last weekly “March of Return” before next week’s Nakba Day events on May 14 and 15, when demonstrations are expected to reach their peak.
The Israeli army said protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers at five major points along the border. Troops were attacked with pipe bombs, grenades, rocks and burning tires. Demonstrators also attempted to sabotage “security infrastructure,” the army said.
Several flaming kites were flown over the fence by demonstrators, sparking blazes in Israeli territory. Israeli officials said the fires were under control.
The army said it used live fire in several incidents against violent demonstrators.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said a 40-year-old man was killed after being shot in the chest east of Khan Younis, in the south of the Strip. The ministry said at lest 146 people were injured by live fire — at least eight seriously, and another several dozen moderately and several dozen lightly.
Palestinians reported that a journalist was injured after being shot in the leg.
It was the seventh weekly protest, and a preview of what is expected to be a much larger border rally on Monday and Tuesday. On that day, protests are timed to coincide with the planned move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Clashes were also reported in the West Bank, in the Nablus area, where several people were reported injured by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said at one demonstration that “all the Palestinian people will be on the streets” on May 14 and 15.
“Our people will surge from the refugee camps in Lebanon to Palestine’s northern border, and our people in Jordan will also surge to the outskirts of Palestine, he said. “We will turn the Nakba (catastrophe) which brought about the end of Palestine to the Nakba which will bring about the end of the Zionist enterprise.”
Earlier three Israelis were detained by IDF troops after they attempted to fly a flaming kite toward Gaza, replicating a recent Palestinian tactic. The kite fell short of the border and sparked a fire near Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
Police said the fire was extinguished and the three were handed over for questioning.
Earlier a kite from Gaza carrying flammable material started a fire in fields near Kibbutz Am, close to the border. A Palestinian was reportedly injured by IDF fire as he was launching the burning kite toward Israel. It would be the first known IDF shooting of a Palestinian kite flyer.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza said Thursday he hopes to see hundreds of thousands of Palestinians breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel at next week’s protests to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.
In his first major briefing to international media since becoming head of the Gaza terror group in 2017, Yahya Sinwar implied he would like to see thousands of Palestinians crossing into Israel as part of the culmination of more than a month of protests.
Asked what he wanted to see from protests on Monday and Tuesday, Sinwar pointed out Israel has never specifically defined its borders.
“What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?”
Sinwar said he hoped Israel would not shoot at what he called “peaceful” protests.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.
The Hamas-led demonstrations are ostensibly aimed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.
Israel says, however, that the terror group uses the protests as a cover for attacks at the border and attempts to breach it.
Monday and Tuesday’s demonstrations will cap six weeks of protests and coincides with the date of Nakba Day, when Palestinians mark 70 years since the “catastrophe” of the establishment of Israel. Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 war.
They will also come as the US moves its Israel embassy to Jerusalem on May 14.
According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.
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.
No Israelis have been hurt, and Sinwar said that was evidence the protests were “peaceful.”
But he warned the protests risked spiraling out of control. “The Gaza Strip is like a hungry tiger that has been starved and left in a cage for 11 years,” Sinwar said.
“Now the tiger is loose, and nobody knows what it will do.”
On Wednesday, Sinwar said the mass protest will be “decisive,” vowing that he and other top officials were “ready to die” in a campaign to end Israel’s decade-old blockade of the territory. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.
In a speech to hundreds of Gazan youths, he said Hamas has rejected international proposals to stop the weekly, often violent gatherings.
“We can’t stop these protests. We are supporting, even leading, them,” he said. The protests will be “like a tiger running in all directions,” he said.
Going further, he said Hamas leaders “are ready to die along with tens of thousands” as the marches climax next week.
Activists have been burning tires along the fence, throwing stones at Israeli troops, and flying incendiary kites over dry fields on the Israeli side of the border in recent Fridays. Some of the youths brandished wire cutters, a popular tool in weekly attempts to cut through the border fence.
An Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
Though they were initially planned as non-violent demonstrations, the protests were co-opted by the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and whose leaders have said their goal is to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”
The Israeli military has faced international and domestic criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. 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.
Hamas has said if the protests “don’t achieve their goals,” they will continue.
Agencies contributed to this report.