IDF faces third straight week of Gaza border protests
Protesters throw rocks, explosive devices and Molotov Cocktails at security personnel, and attempt to breach border during third March of Return demonstration; IDF soldiers return fire, with snipers taking up positions as rioters burn tires, Israeli flags and fly burning kites into Israel; one protester dead, hundreds more wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.
Some 10,000 Gaza residents assembled on Friday at the border with Israel to stage another protest as part of their "March of Return" for a third consecutive week, with IDF soldiers responding with live rounds as protesters threw Molotov Cocktails and explosive devices.
By 2pm, the IDF said that a number of protesters attempted to damage and cross security blocks set up ahead of the demonstrations, while others attempted to carry out terror attacks by hurling explosive devices and Molotov Cocktails. The incidents were met with live rounds by the soldiers and riot dispersal techniques.
A 28-year-old Palestinian man was killed, while about 30 protesters were wounded by IDF gunfire, the IDF confirmed.
Gaza health officials say 528 Palestinians were hurt, including 122 by Israeli army fire.
An Israeli military spokesman its troops were "responding with riot dispersal means while also firing in accordance with the rules of engagement." Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told The Associated Press that the army is trying to "minimize" Palestinian casualties, but that open-fire regulations have not changed.
The military said that demonstrators hurled an explosive device and several fire bombs near the fence in what it said was an apparent attempt to damage it. One such explosive device planted in the vicinity of the Karni crossing ended up injuring several demonstrators by mistake after detonating prematurely.
Footage distributed by the military showed an area of the fence made up of several layers of barbed wire coils. Protesters stuck a Palestinian flag into the fence and affixed a rope, using it to tug at the coils. One man threw a burning tire into the fence, while another was seen walking nearby with the help of a crutch.
A picture published on the IDF Spokesperson's Unit's Twitter page further exemplified the complexity of the border protests, with Palestinian reporters and another man on crutches shown standing directly behind a protester hurling what is suspected to be an improvised explosive device.
As in the last two weeks, the Palestinians staged the demonstrations in five different gathering points next to the security fence spanning the north-south border, with emphasis this week being on burning Israeli flags and tires.
To that end, the Palestinians have prepared thousands of flags to be burned, along with tires. The protesters trampled on a giant Israeli flag spread on the ground. In some areas, high flagpoles were installed for the flags to be raised and then burned.
Last Friday, the protesters burned thousands of tires, creating a thick blanket of smoke intended to obscure the IDF soldiers' site.
According to the IDF, soldiers responded with live rounds against central ringleaders after rioters began throwing rocks at soldiers and burning tires
The protests included a new method aimed at harming Israel beyond the fence in the form of kites being set alight and flown over the fence onto Israeli territory.
A video demonstrating this method was published on Wednesday in a bid to encourage the residents to fly the burning kites into Israel. The video shows a kite landing in Israeli territory and causing a fire to the vegetation fields surrounding a military base, before spreading and promting the arrival of Israeli firefighters.
Since the Gaza residents launched their weekly border demonstration campaign, 32 Palestinian have been killed for what Israel says were attempts to breach the border or for other hostile activities and attempted acts of terror.
According to the IDF, soldiers last opened fire on a Palestinian who approached the fence east of Khan Yunis in the southern strip, despite the military's repeated warnings not to.
With the last two weeks attracting thousands of protesters, the IDF again geared up for another chaotic Friday by beefing up forces along the border, and deploying dozens of snipers near the fence to neutralize anybody attempting to infiltrate into Isreal or plant a bomb on the border.
The military predicted that thousands of demonstrators would arrive on Friday to the protest tents erected by Hamas along the border, and therefore took extra precautions to thwart hundreds of attempted border crossings or acts of sabotage to the fence.
The demonstrations are expected to reach their climax on next month's Nakba Day—which Palestinians mark as the “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence—as a protest over the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem.
Various operational deployments of the forces and enhanced use of riot control and drones were adopted on Friday by the IDF in an attempt to implement the lessons drawn in riots over the past two Fridays.
The IDF predictions that Hamas would attempt to carry out terror attacks during the disturbances turned out to be correct. The suspicions were raised after Hamas earlier this week set off an explosive device near an IDF force on the Gaza border, east of Sujjaiya, in the area near the Karni Crossing.
Tensions escalated further when Israeli fighter jets attacked overnight Wednesday a Hamas terror position in the northern Gaza Strip in retaliation for the detonation of the explosive device.
The following evening, an incident next to the fence also occurred when the Palestinian Ministry of Interior announced the death of a Palestinian who was shot by the IDF. He was evacuated after being shot next to the southern Gaza border.
After the attack, a terrorist squad shot machine guns at the Israeli aircraft, activating Code Red alerts in Israeli Gaza border communities. In the Hamas fire, a bullet struck a house in Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council. No one was injured in the violence.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.