As Israel inches ever-closer to an all-out war against Hezbollah in Syria (a war that could expand to encompass southern Lebanon), the IDF this week also mercilessly crushed yet another massive Hamas-organized border protest in Gaza, deploying drones to shower thousands of demonstrators with tear gas while firing live rounds and rubber-coated steel pellets into the crowd. By the time yesterday's border clashes had ended, at least 15 Palestinians were dead and over 500 were wounded.
Of course, a spokesman for the IDF - a Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis - denied allegations of excessive use of force. He said the men killed by the IDF belonged to a violent, militant faction of Hamas, and that several dozen people - at most - were injured by live fire while the rest were merely impacted by the tear gas and other crowd-control responses. Gaza's Shifa Hospital received 284 injured people Friday - most of them with bullet wounds. Of those, 70 were under the age of 18. And 11 were women, per the Associated Press.
Already Saturday, several hundred people returned to the five makeshift tent encampments several hundred meters from the border; the encampments were meant to be a launch point for the marches. But if demonstrators try to rush the border fence again, Manelis said Israel would have no choice but to "expand" its response beyond the border area - echoing the extremely deadly assault unleashed on Gaza City during the summer of 2014. That episode left nearly 2,000 Palestinians dead. Of those, nearly 500 were civilians, per AP.
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 organizations in other places too,” he said.
Indeed, just like during the runup to the IDF's Operation Protective Edge, the IDF labeled Palestinians efforts to "breach" the border fence "organized terrorist operations."
Sure enough, on Saturday Israeli troops fired warning shots toward Palestinian youths gathered at the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday, wounding 13 people, health officials said according to Reuters.
And, as we previewed last week, it is only a matter of time before Israel decides to retaliate not on the border but inside the Gaza Strip itself, potentially sparking yet another regional war.
“We won’t let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will not have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip,” Manelis told reporters in a phone briefing.
Separately, during a series of tweets, an IDF spokesperson said the army is "only interested in terrorists who are trying to disrupt Israeli life; we only act against them." The army also claimed that "nothing was carried out uncontrolled" and that the IDF "knows where every bullet landed." The IDF also touted its successful thwarting of an infiltration attempt by three terrorists in northern Gaza.
Curiously, those tweets by the Israeli army were then swiftly deleted.
‘We know where every bullet landed’, Tweeted the Israeli army. ‘Nothing was carried out uncontrolled’. Bullets which killed 15 Palestinian demonstrators and wounded 1,400. They’ve since deleted their admittance of guilt #Gaza https://t.co/1U3EXgl7Jf pic.twitter.com/tgPuOTiGrQ— Joseph Willits (@josephwillits) March 31, 2018
Friday's demonstrations were meant to be part of a six-week long campaign calling for a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel. The protests are set to culminate in May when Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its independence - a day that Palestinians call Nakba (catastrophe) day.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an "independent" investigation of what happened on Friday. The UN Security Council urged restraint on both sides following the clashes, but didn't decide on any concrete actions.
Since seizing control of Gaza back in 2007 and splitting with the more moderate Fatah party, Hamas has been involved with several deadly clashes with the IDF, as a border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt has made it increasingly more difficult for Hamas to govern.