Israel will target “terror organisations” in Gaza if violence along the territory’s border with Israel drags on, the chief military spokesman warned, a day after 15 Palestinians were killed amid protests involving thousands of people near the border fence.
The mass marches were led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and touted as the launch of a six-week-long protest campaign.
Palestinian health officials said 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire and more than 750 hit by live rounds, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas.
During Friday’s confrontations, large crowds gathered near the border fence, with smaller groups of protesters rushing forward, throwing stones and burning tyres.
Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-coated steel pellets, while drones dropped tear gas from above. The army released video showing soldiers with rifles perched on high embankments overlooking the scene.
Brig Gen Ronen Manelis, the chief army spokesman, denied allegations of excessive use of force, saying those killed by Israeli troops were men between the ages of 18 and 30 who were involved in violence and belonged to militant factions.
He alleged Gaza health officials had exaggerated the number of wounded, and that several dozen at most were injured by live fire while the rest were merely shaken up by tear gas and other riot dispersal means.
Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital received 284 injured people on Friday, the majority with bullet injuries, said spokesman Ayman Sahbani. He said 70 were under the age of 18 and 11 were women.
He said 40 surgeries were performed on Friday and that 50 were planned for Saturday. “These are all from live bullets that broke limbs or caused deep, open wounds with damage to nerves and veins,” he said.
Protest organisers said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation. Palestinians mark that date as their “nakba”, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were uprooted during the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
The vast majority of Gaza’s two million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from homes in what is now Israel.
Brig Gen Manelis reiterated that Israel “will not allow a massive breach of the fence into Israeli territory”.
He said that Hamas and other Gaza militant groups are using protests as a cover for staging attacks. If violence continues, “we will not be able to continue limiting our activity to the fence area and will act against these terror organisations in other places too”, he said.
The border protests were seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group seized Gaza from forces loyal to its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007. The continued closure has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews tweeted about the incident: “Alarming developments at Gaza border as Hamas once again using its civilians – inc children – as pawns. We call for calm & a return to negotiating table, resulting in a secure, Jewish & democratic Israel alongside a viable & vibrant Palestinian state.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, took to twitter to condemn the violence, saying: “The killing and wounding by Israeli forces of civilians demonstrating for Palestinian rights in Gaza is appalling. The UK Government must make its voice heard on the urgency of a genuine settlement for peace and justice.”
While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.
That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.
We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.
Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”