The violence erupted following the renewal, for the fourth consecutive week, of the “March of Return” staged by the Palestinians in the coastal enclave in recent weeks, some 3,000 of whom have descended on the border.
The Gaza Health Ministry says 445 Palestinians have been wounded in protests on the Gaza-Israel border, including 96 who were wounded by Israeli army fire.
The officials say that of those injured Friday, 174 were transferred to hospitals and 271 treated in field clinics. Some of the injured were overcome by tear gas, hit with rubber-coated steel pellets or hit by shrapnel.
Israeli soldiers deployed along the border in a bid to prevent or react to the outbreak of violence, with officials warning that the military will act against instigators and riot ringleaders.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who toured the area of Kibbutz Sa'ad in the Gaza vicinity Friday, pointed to the dwindling numbers in the protests, saying "It is good to see that the Palestinian public is less and less responding to Hamas' calls.
According to Lieberman, "90% of (current) demonstrators are paid by Hamas. Their families force them to come here."
As night fell and with it protester's enthusiasm, Hamas's senior leadership—among them its political leader Ismail Haniyeh and it leader in the strip Yahya Sinwar—arrived to the border, in an apparent effort to raise the morale of the demonstrators.
"We call on the Palestinian people to prepare for the big march on Nakba Day," Haniyeh told demonstrators, urging them to maintain the momentum of the "March of Return" campaign for what is supposed to be its peak moment on May 15—Nakba (catastrophe) Day, commemorated by Palestinians for their displacement following Israel's establishment.
Ahead of the protests, the IDF dropped leaflets on Gaza on Friday morning, warning residents to refrain from approaching the border fence with Israel, and not to attempt to damage it or carry out terror attacks.
It is the first time that the IDF has dropped leaflets from the air on the Gaza Strip ahead of the mass demonstrations on the border warning against public disturbances.
“You are participating in violent disturbances. Hamas is using you to carry out terror attacks. The IDF is ready for any scenario,” the leaflets read, which also contained pictures of objects and weapons and actions which the military has forbidden in the protests.
“Avoid approaching the fence and damaging it. Avoid using a weapon to carry out violent acts against the Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians. Keep away from terrorists and from people who promote disturbances and violence,” the leaflets instructed before warning that the army would not hesitate to respond.
“The IDF will act against any attempt to damage the barrier and its components and any other military equipment. Hamas is using you to promote its own interests of the movement. Do not obey Hamas’s instruction that endanger your lives. There is another way. Your future is in your hands.” it added.
Palestinians, in response, attached notes with messages to Israel on kites they built and sent carrying incendiary materials at the border.
"You have no place in Palestine," the notes read. "Go back to where you came from. Al-Quds (Jerusalem)—the capital of Palestine."
On Thursday, as the Gaza residents geared up for more protests, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement published a video in its latest psychological warfare campaign against IDF commanders and soldiers, which included images of soldiers in the crosshairs of a sniper.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, features twice in the video, which was likely filmed during mass demonstrations that took place in recent weeks as part of the “March of Return.”
The video, intended to illustrate the abilities of the snipers situated in the Gaza Strip to shoot Israeli personnel on the border, concludes in a message in Hebrew and Arabic, saying “You murder our people in cold blood and think that you are protected, when our snipers are directed at your senior commanders.”
Last Friday, some 10,000 Gaza residents assembled on the border with Israel to stage another protest, with IDF soldiers responding with live rounds as protesters threw Molotov Cocktails and explosive devices.
While thousands are still expected to take part in the latest demonstrations protests, a weekly decline in the turnout has been noted by security officials. Since the first march, during which tens of thousands were galvanized by the ruling Hamas terror group to take part in the protest, last week witnessed a stark drop in momentum, with the number dropping to 10,000.