Some 20,000 Palestinians take part in Gaza border riots
Palestinian health ministry says at least three protesters were killed by Israeli fire during border clashes as thousands of demonstrators gather along the security fence; IDF closes at least 4 roads adjacent to the strip; Prime Minister Netanyahu stresses that country 'would take strong action against Gaza for every action against Israel.'
The protesters set alight tires and threw explosive devices at IDF troops, who responded with riot control measures, which for the first time included the use of sponge-tipped bullets.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement that in response to "grenades and explosive devices" hurled at troops during the protests, an IAF aircraft carried out two airstrikes on Hamas militant positions in the Gaza Strip. The statement added that some protesters crossed the fence to throw grenades on Israeli territory before returning to the strip.
Earlier, IDF said that it closed off to traffic at least four roads adjacent to the Gaza Strip border due to fears of a possible escalation of hostilities in the area.
In addition, firefighting crews in the area are reported to be on high alert and ready to deal with the smoke from the burning tires at the border. Currently, there are no special instructions for residents of the Gaza border region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the situation on the southern border during Friday's meeting with German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas.
"Israel would take strong action against Gaza for every action against Israel and the residents of the south, he stressed.
During the protests, the newly elected leader of Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhala, spoke publicly for the first time since his official appointment a week ago, warning the Gaza border communities’ residents.
“Death is life for our people and life for our children, and capitulation is our death. The Israeli aggression against the 'March of Return' campaign and the killing of our people must stop,” he vented.
“The resistance must take responsibility for this. It has the ability to turn the Gaza border region and its settlements into a place that is not suitable for life," al-Nakhala threatened.
Hamas also addressed the violent demonstrations on the border.
"The response to the Israeli threats against the March of Return campaign ... was the mass participation in the protests," their statement stressed, adding that "those who participated decided that nothing would stop them from marching until their goals are achieved."
Throughout the day, at least seven fires broke out in the Gaza border communities as a result of incendiary balloons being launched into Israel from the strip. The fires are reported to have been extinguished.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman sent a warning to Hamas writing on his Twitter page that "the holidays are behind us, take that into account."
"We got through the High Holy Days just as we had planned, without a war erupting and while exacting a heavy price from the rioters on the Gaza border," Lieberman wrote. "But the holidays are now behind us, and I tell the heads of Hamas: 'Take that into account.'"
The defense minister held security consultations on Thursday with the IDF chief of staff, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) and other senior defense officials to discuss the situation in Gaza.
"The defense minister examined the readiness of the forces around the Gaza Strip and instructed the IDF to maintain maximum alertness and be prepared for any scenario," Lieberman's office said.
The IDF said in a statement that the decision was made "to continue the determined policy to thwart terror attacks and prevent infiltrations into Israel in the border fence area of the Gaza Strip. The IDF is prepared and ready for a variety of scenarios and considers the Hamas terror organization responsible for everything that happens in and from the Gaza Strip."
Also on Thursday, the Popular Resistance Committees in the strip threatened that "blood will be met with blood" and that "We will no longer tolerate the killing of protesters,' and The Al-Quds Brigades, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's military wing, held a military parade in the Gaza Strip, displaying what was either real or dummy rockets.
Reuters contributed to this report.