One Palestinian was killed and dozens more injured by IDF fire during the weekly protests which saw some 10,000 demonstrators riot along the Gaza security fence. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 25-year-old Ehab Atallah Abed was killed during clashes with IDF troops east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Another 24 were injured, including f14 minors, the ministry was quoted by Palestinian Wafa news as saying.
Friday riots on the Gaza border came amid rising tensions between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. The dispute gathered steam last week over a $15 million transfer of salaries from Qatar to Gaza, which was temporarily blocked by Israel and then by Hamas. Sniper fire from the enclave raised alert levels that worse might come on Friday, when protesters descend to the border area weekly.
On Friday, the fields along the border fence, where Israeli communities are within eyesight of Palestinian houses in Gaza, tensions ran high. Tanks, IDF patrols and security vehicles ensured that potential violence did not boil over. Near Kibbutz Nahal Oz and in the northern Gaza Strip, smoke and tear gas could be seen in Gaza and as well as hundreds of protesters.
Five locations along the Gaza border, where Palestinian urban areas sprawl toward the border fence, have become flashpoints over almost 10 months of protests that Hamas has called the “March of Return.” Every Friday protesters gather and confront the IDF. On January 25, the protests began after Friday prayers and stretched into sunset. From the border, tear gas fired near the crowds could be seen and distant rifle fire, fired into the air somewhere in Gaza City, could be heard.
Despite calls on the Palestinian side to increase protests and rumors that violence would increase, the protests mostly passed without major incidents on the Israeli side. This is due to the long experience of months confronting the same kind of riots every week and the frustration on the Gazan side at the ineffectiveness of the demonstrations. The IDF cordoned off some access to Gaza, telling journalists that part of the area was a closed military zone. In the distance, security jeeps and a tank could be seen from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, whose fence is only a kilometer from the Palestinian enclave.
Several local residents watched the smoke and tear gas that billowed infrequently from near the Karni factories and crossing. Just before sunset, Palestinian ambulances were heard frequently arriving and leaving the border area, their sirens blazing. The protesters chanted and waved Palestinian flags. However, threats that the demonstrations Friday would be a major escalation after several days of tension did not materialize.
An ambulance was reportedly hit with tear gas canisters in eastern Gaza, wounding six paramedics, the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Ministry of Health said. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that the rioters had been burning tires, throwing rocks and hand grenades at Israeli troops, who responded by riot dispersal means, including firing rubber-coated steel rounds and live bullets at the protesters.
Earlier on Friday, two Palestinians were taken into custody after they crossed the border fence from Gaza. The military said they were unarmed.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi toured the border area during the protests and held a situational assessment with senior commanders, hearing reports from the commander of the Northern Brigade, Col. Avi Rosenfeld, the commander of the Gaza Division, Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano and the head of the southern Command Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevi.
Later on, during a tour of the Gaza Strip fence, Halevy met with the officer who was lightly wounded earlier this week after sniper fire hit his helmet.