ZeroHedge previously reported the deadly encounter along the Israeli-Gaza border on Friday afternoon during a series of massive protests which took place near the security fence surrounding the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. By the day’s end an astounding casualty toll hit world headlines after Israel used live bullets to quell what it called “rioting”: the BBC reports 16 Palestinians dead and over 400 wounded by live Israeli fire.
And hundreds of others were reported wounded by rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and in the general ensuing chaos. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have admitted to using live ammunition – and not just the rubber bullets more commonly used to disperse protests – claiming that marchers entered a declared “a closed military zone” and threatened Israeli security positions.
At that point the IDF said it commenced “firing towards the main instigators” to disperse the “rioting” crowd that including stone throwing and the hurling of petrol bombs toward Israeli positions. Among those killed by Israeli live fire was a 16-year old boy, according to Palestinian health officials.
There were an estimated 17,000 Palestinians in five locations along the border fence. Image source: Times of Israel.
New footage continues to emerge of what Gazans dubbed “Great Return March” protests which were originally envisioned to span six weeks – though it’s unclear how Friday’s events and Israel’s ongoing crackdown, which activists are calling a massacre, will affect Gazans’ and Palestinians’ ability to organize. UN Security Council members met in New York to call for an investigation into the violence.
Drone footage of the early part of Friday’s march shows a massive column of Palestinian protesters moving toward the border. According the BBC, citing the IDF, there were about 17,000 Palestinians in five locations along the border fence. Some Israeli sources have cited 20,000 marchers.
New drone footage shows the extent to Friday’s “Great Return March” in Gaza:
Further footage published online by Palestinian activists circulated widely late Friday and early Saturday, and appear to show instances of Palestinians shot down in cold blood.
These included scenes of protesters running through open fields without any identifiable weapons, and one instance of a man shot while praying (warning: mature content):
Israeli media, including the Israeli daily Haaretz, has confirmed instances of Palestinians being shot in the back while running away from the Israeli security zone.
In a now deleted tweet posted Friday, the official IDF twitter account admitted Israeli forces shot live rounds toward Israelis along the border fence. The tweet stated, “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”
Likely, the rising death toll throughout the day and immediate international media attention covering the voilence caused the IDF to delete the statement.
During the State Department’s daily press briefing on Thursday – a day before the border violence – spokesperson Heather Nauert was asked about the possibility of a “bloodbath” unfolding based on widely circulating reports that Israel would deploy snipers in response to the planned protests.
Nauert objected to the word choice of the possibility of a “bloodbath” – though ironically that is exactly what happened the following day.
Nauert said, “I certainly hope you’re wrong. We don’t like to hear excessive language in conjunction with an area that is so sensitive… Overall Israel has a right to defend itself… we hope things remain calm.”
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Friday’s demonstrations mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all of Palestine, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared in a speech at the scene of the mass protests in the Gaza Strip.
“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,” he said and added that the March of Return was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump to the effect that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem and “Palestine.”
Previously Palestinians have also demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
Khaled al-Batsh, the leader of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group, which is also among the planners of the protest, said tents would be located 500 meters from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel. The protest comes amid rising tensions as the United States prepares to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
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Israel Will Respond “Inside Gaza Strip” If “Organized Terrorist Operations” Continue
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.
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.