Around 30,000Palestiniansrallied throughout theGazaStrip on Friday during the “March of Return,” a series of mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded during clashes with Israeli soldiers over several hours, after a number of protesters threw stones and firebombs toward soldiers stationed along the fence.
In a separate incident, the Israeli military exchanged fire with two armed Palestinians who approached the border fence and opened fire toward Israeli soldiers. The IDF targeted three Hamas positions with tank fire and Israel Air Force fighter jets in response.
The Israeli military declared the area along the border a closed military zone, responding with live ammunition and other riot control methods in hopes of dispersing the protests.
The “March of Return” marks Land Day, a day Palestinians worldwide have commemorated since 1976, when Israeli security forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities. About 100 others were wounded and hundreds were arrested during the protest on March 30 of that year.
— الجزيرة مباشر (@ajmubasher) March 30, 2018
Backed by the Hamas government in Gaza, Palestinians have established several tent camps housing thousands near the Israel- Gaza border. Thousands of Palestinians will camp out near the fence as an extended protest until Nakba Day in mid-May, with weekly demonstrations on Fridays.
IDF chief spokesperson Ronen Manelis said that the event has not concluded, adding that “their intention is to continue this is in the hours, days and weeks to come.”
Manelis added that the military used discretion when using live fire, adding that all the Palestinian fatalities were men between the ages of 18 and 30. He noted that several of the fatalities identified with Hamas, one of whom was considered a central figure in the organization.”
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot is in southern Israel to monitor the situation on the ground, as nearly 900 Palestinians demonstrated throughout the West Bank today in a parallel demonstration to the Gaza march. The protests, which the Israeli army contained using riot control measures, were mostly in central West Bank cities, such as Ramallah and Hebron, though the IDF said that there were protests in other parts of the West Bank as well. According to the Red Crescent, 27 Palestinians were wounded during clashes near Nablus.
Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir said that Hamas was attempting to carry out attacks under the guise of demonstrations, adding that “We recommend to civilians not to come near [the fence], and warn Hamas that it is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip with all its consequences.”
The Palestinian casualties, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and local media, have so far been identified as: Mahmoud Saudi Rachmi, 33, killed by gunfire in eastern Gaza; Jihad Faranh, 34, killed in eastern Gaza; Mohammed Kamal al-Nagar, 25, killed in Jabalia; Mahmoud Abu Maomar, 27, killed during clashes in Rafah; and Ahmed Ibrahim Odeh, 19, killed by gunfire in the northern Gaza Strip.
Haaretz reported that a seven-year-old girl was sent to the border fence by Hamas. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the military made sure she was safely returned to her parents.
In a statement, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said “The IDF deployed large numbers of troops in advance and is prepared to act in different scenarios. We will not allow a violation of Israel’s sovereignty or an attack on the infrastructures defending the fence.”
Prior to the demonstrations, Omar Wahid Samur, a 27-year-old Palestinian farmer, was killed by Israeli tank fire early Friday morning near the town of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. Another was critically wounded at the same time by an Israeli tank shell, according to Hamas-run media. In a separate incident earlier Friday morning, the Israeli army fired at two suspects in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke to marchers in the eastern Gaza Strip. “The Palestinian people have proved time after time that they can take the initiative and do great things. This march is the beginning of the return to all of Palestine.”
Haniyeh said they will not compromise and there is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a return to “the entire land of Palestine.”
“This march sends a message that the Palestinian people are united against the occupation and against the blockade and against the concessions and against the suspicious deals,” Haniyeh added.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote to Gaza residents in Arabic on his official Twitter account Friday morning ahead of the mass Gaza protests.
“The leadership of Hamas is playing with your lives. Anyone who comes close to the [border] fence today puts himself at risk. I suggest to you to continue your lives and not participate in a provocation,” Lieberman warned.
Over the last few days the IDF has warned that it would open fire on anyone who tries to breach the border fence and enter Israel. The IDF has brought a brigade, snipers and soldiers from various courses, to help local troops deal with Friday’s demonstration. The snipers have been instructed to shoot demonstrators who breach the fence.