Nine killed during Friday ‘March of Return’

Despite Hamas’s claims, seeing the clashes close up revealed the reality.

UN ambassadors condemn killing of Palestinian protesters by Israeli troops, April 6, 2018 (Reuters)
The IDF killed nine Palestinians and wounded hundreds with live fire as soldiers defended Israel’s border fence with the Gaza Strip from infiltration on Friday in what was the second deadliest day since the “Great March of Return” began on March 30.
Amid warnings from Israel and the US to stay at least 500 meters from the border, Palestinians brought masses of tires to burn, using the smoke to shield their movements from the IDF.
Palestinians take part in protests for the "Great March of Return" in Gaza (credit: Reuters)
Palestinian youths burned Israeli flags and planted Palestinian banners on dirt mounds beside tent encampments as others arrived on large trucks carrying piles of more tires to burn. Others launched stones with slingshots.
With Israeli tear gas rising into the air, Palestinian youths used T-shirts, cheap medical masks and perfume to try and protect themselves. Israel tried to douse the burning rubber with jets of water directed over defensive dirt mounds on its side of the border.
Some 31 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF since the Palestinians began the six-week protest set to end on May 15, during which thousands of protesters hope to break though the security barrier separating the Gaza Strip from Israel.
Funeral held for Palestinian journalist killed in Israel-Gaza protests, April 7, 2018 (Reuters)
Some 20,000 protesters gathered by the fence on Friday in what the Palestinians have argued is a popular, nonviolent protest and which Israel has billed as a terrorist activity by those who aim to destroy the country.
Palestinians focused in particular on the death of Yaser Murtaja, 30, who was buried on Saturday after he was killed filming the protests while wearing a flak vest that said “Press” on it.
The IDF published a number of videos to the media over the weekend that showed Palestinian violence by the fence, including burning tires and attempts to break through. In some of the shots, black smoke can be seen billowing above the border. In one instance, a Palestinian rioter can be seen cutting through the wire fence with pliers.
IDF summary of Gaza protests on Friday, April 6 (IDF Spokesperson"s Unit)
Other attempts included Molotov cocktails and explosive devices, the IDF said.
One of the videos showed a flag with a swastika on it flying between two Palestinian flags.
The Prime Minister’s Arabic- language spokesman Ofir Gendelman tweeted about the flag as well on Friday.
“Hamas terrorists have planted today right on the Gaza-Israel border this Nazi flag which was flying b/w Palestinian flags. Hamas proudly declares that its aim is to annihilate Israel & the Jewish people. The genocidal message has been received. We will defend our country,” Gendelman said.
The IDF, which had declared the area a closed military zone, said the violence occurred at five points along the barrier.
By 10 in the morning, fires were already seen and black smoke was billowing at two places in the northern Gaza Strip near the town of Beit Hanoun. Hundreds of Palestinians could be seen on a road leading to the border, and food trucks and camping equipment festooned the road. Most of the Palestinians appeared to be onlookers. At a berm constructed by the IDF along the border, the army watched the Palestinians and the burning tires.
Jerusalem Post reporter Seth J. Frantzman updates from the Gaza-Israel border during the April 6th "Tire Protest"
Palestinian media reported that dozens of ambulances had deployed a “field hospital” near the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. In Khan Yunis to the south, hundreds of men with tires were filmed. Shehab media’s Twitter account claimed a Palestinian was wounded in Jabalya in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
Closer to Gaza City, the protesters achieved what they wanted at around 2 p.m. when the winds shifted slightly and blew the smoke toward IDF positions. The army fired teargas to keep back those protesters who had come closer to the fence. One young man could be seen on a mound of earth near the border waving a Palestinian flag before he was engulfed in the thick clouds of teargas.
Another man threw a Molotov cocktail at the fence. Stun grenades and sniper fire could be heard. Israeli fire crews were deployed to try to spray water at the fires from across the fence. A giant fan was also brought up to blow the smoke away, but neither was effective.
Palestinians on loud speakers chanted religious slogans, and someone could be heard using a loudspeaker to announce that there were gas masks, but also to sell food. The combination of the three symbolized the larger protest movement.
Former Commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan Col. (Ret.) Richard Kemp offers his insights on the events taking place on the Gaza border. (Seth J. Frantzman)
Most of the thousands who came appeared to be onlookers, not interested in approaching the fence. In a major difference from last Friday, both the Palestinians and the IDF appeared to hold back. Last Friday, 17 protesters were killed.
Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, came to see the protests.
“One thing people don’t appreciate if they haven’t seen it is that this is not a peaceful demonstration,” he said.
Despite Hamas’s claims, Kemp said that seeing the clashes close up revealed the reality.
“This is a deliberate and specific intent by terrorist organizations to penetrate the State of Israel and kill civilians, and the IDF has no option except to use lethal force to stop such a dangerous threat.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s spokesman to the foreign press and head of social media, emphasized that 10 of the Palestinians killed last week had been active Hamas members.
Speaking to media assembled near Nahal Oz, across from Gaza City, Conricus said the demonstrations were not peaceful and the sole intention was to use the riots as a cover to threaten Israeli communities along the border.
“We hold Hamas responsible for any act of aggression that comes from Gaza,” he asserted.
He also said that the number of demonstrations was smaller than the week before.
One 27-year-old protester who would only give his name as Samer, saying he feared Israeli reprisals, said he had come to the border to take a stand for freedom.
“Israel took everything from us – the homeland, freedom, our future,” Samer said. “I have two kids, a boy and a girl, and if I die, God will take care of them.”
Hamas’s Gaza leader, Yehya al-Sinwar, spoke at a protest encampment to praise those who had turned out to confront the “enemy who besieges us.” He said the demonstrations would continue, telling the crowds: “We will uproot the borders, we will pluck out their hearts, and we will pray in Jerusalem.”
Earlier, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem urged protesters to keep the rallies peaceful.
“Maintaining the peaceful nature of the protests will strike all fragile Zionist propaganda,” Qassem said in a statement.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds little sway in Gaza, condemned what he described as Israel’s “acts of killing and oppression conducted... against the peaceful uprising.”
According to the Red Crescent, 704 Palestinians were injured over the weekend, 326 from live bullets and 298 from tear gas. The Hamas-run Health Ministry said 1,354 were injured, of which 491 of the injuries were from live fire.
Adam Rasgon and Reuters contributed to this report.