Israeli gunfire on Saturday wounded 24 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head, health officials said, as Palestinian protesters threw stones and burned tires during a demonstration along the border with Israel.
The violent confrontations were reminiscent of the weekly order demonstrations organised by Gaza’s Hamas rulers in 2018 and 2019 staged to draw attention to Israel’s stifling blockade over the tiny seaside territory.
Hundreds of people took part in Saturday’s demonstration, which grew violent after dozens of people approached the fortified border fence and threw rocks toward Israeli soldiers from behind a black smokescreen spewing from burning tires. Israeli troops fired teargas and live rounds toward the protesters.
By evening, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 24 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire. Two of them, including the 13-year-old boy, were in critical condition.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and countless skirmishes since the Islamist militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election. The most recent war, in May, ended in an inconclusive ceasefire after 11 days of fighting.
Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas official, told protesters that the confrontation with Israel was “still open”.
There has been growing tension in recent weeks, with Hamas calling for Israel to ease the blockade, which greatly restricts movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. Israel has imposed the blockade with Egyptian help since 2007, saying it is needed to prevent Hamas from arming itself.
In a statement, the Israeli army said troops responded with live rounds after hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated at the Gaza-Israeli border.
During the border protests in 2018 and 2019, more than 350 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. The protests ground to a halt after mediators, including representatives of Egypt, Qatar and the UN, brokered an unofficial deal in which Israel eased some of its economic restrictions on Gaza and allowed Qatar to deliver tens of millions of dollars in monthly payments to needy Gaza households, and salaries to Hamas officials.
Since the war in May, the new Israeli government, headed by Naftali Bennett, has blocked the Qatari aid, calling for a mechanism to ensure Hamas doesn’t benefit from the cash. It also has blocked the import of key reconstruction materials while demanding that Hamas first return the remains of two soldiers killed in a 2014 war and two Israeli civilians believed to be alive.
Hamas called for Saturday’s protest to signal its frustration with Israel delaying the Qatari cash injections.
On Thursday, however, Israel announced an agreement with the Gulf Arab country to resume aid payments to thousands of households in the Gaza Strip, aimed at easing tensions with the Palestinian territory after the war. Under the new arrangement, the funds are to be transferred by the United Nations directly to Gaza families, while giving Israel oversight over the list of recipients. The payments are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
Hamas called for the protest at the Gaza-Israel frontier before the new agreement on the resumption of Qatari aid was reached. It also said the protest was meant to mark the anniversary of a 1969 arson attack at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque by an Australian tourist later found to be mentally ill.
At least 254 people were killed during May’s Gaza-Israel war, including 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.