At least 59 Palestinians, including five minors, were killed Monday in violent clashes with the IDF on the Gaza border as they were protesting the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, according to medical sources in the strip. This is the highest Palestinian death toll since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
IDF fighter jets and tanks attacked Hamas targets in a training camp in Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, following earlier attempts to plant an explosive device on the fence and gunfire at soldiers. The IDF also killed the three terrorists who tried to plant the explosive in the Rafah area.
According to reports, four of the dead were members of Hamas’s security apparatuses. An IDF soldier was lightly wounded, likely from a stone, and received medical care.
About 40,000 Palestinians have gathered near the fence in 13 hot spots along the border since the morning hours. Several thousand others were located in the tent area about half a kilometer from the fence.
At 5:30pm, Hamas ordered all those present in the border area to return home.
More than 1,200 were shot and wounded, with 116 in serious or critical condition. About 1,200 others suffered other types of injuries, including from tear gas, Palestinian sources said.
The protesters on the Gaza border burned tires and threw stones at the soldiers, trying to approach the fence. An IDF quadcopter was shot down near Jabalia.
The IDF warned the protestors that Israel wouldn’t tolerate any breach of the fence. Troops fired gas grenades and warning shots at the protesters.
“Hamas is threatening the Palestinians to go out and protest near the fence. We are prepared for activity above and beyond the fence and deep within the strip,” a military source said. He added that while the number of protesters was higher than before, it wasn’t as high as Hamas had hoped for, which is why the organization raised its level of violence.
“Hamas placed many women at the front in an effort to make it difficult for us to deal with terror targets. That’s the most significant level of violence we have seen since the start of the protests.”
Hamas has gone to great lengths to bring more people to the fence protests. Defense officials said Hamas was offering Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip $100 if all family members took part in the protests. The terror group also offered Gazans transportation to the fence area and to the different points of friction.
A general strike was also declared in the Gaza Strip on Monday—with schools and higher education institutions in the strip closed for the day—to encourage residents to flock to the protest sites.
In the West Bank, several dozen Palestinians hurled stones at IDF forces in Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem. The forces responded with crowd dispersal means.
The Palestinian government in Ramallah rushed to accuse Israel of committing a “horrible massacre” and declared a national day of mourning, to be held Tuesday.
In addition, the Palestine Liberation Organization called a general strike across the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday in response to the deaths, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Monday.
The agency reported that PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef announced a “complete strike” across the Palestinian Territories “to mourn the martyrdom” of those killed in Gaza on Monday.
The Palestinian government called for “immediate and urgent international intervention to stop the massacre committed by the Israeli occupation forces against the protestors in Gaza.”
The statement added that “the Arab and Islamic governments must take measures to stop the bloodshed of the Palestinian people and stand by the Palestinian leadership as it deals with the aggression of the Israeli occupation.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah accused the United States of “blatant violations of international law.
“Choosing a tragic day in Palestinian history (to open the Jerusalem embassy) shows great insensibility and disrespect for the core principles of the peace process,” Hamdallah wrote.
Egypt, meanwhile, has raised its alert level along its own border with Gaza and boosted its security forces in the area.
The IDF operated in several sites Sunday night to disrupt Hamas infrastructures planned to be used as a front base for terrorist activity on Monday and Tuesday. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the army was prepared for a wide variety of scenarios and has boosted its forces in the area. IDF commanders are constantly evaluating the situation from the ground.
A closed military zone was declared in the fence area. Any activity in that area requires the IDF’s approval. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stressed that the army would act against any terrorist activity, work to maintain the Israeli sovereignty and prevent attacks on citizens and soldiers.
Thousands of fighters, some from the Nahal and Givati Brigades, are reinforcing the routine security regiments in the Gaza Division and Judea and Samaria Division. The forces have been instructed to prepare for several radical scenarios, including shooting attacks or explosive devices that might be planted during the attempts to break through the fence. Another scenario is the abduction of a soldier after the fence is breached. The army is preparing for the possibility of armed Hamas members trying to infiltrate Israel together with the protestors.
Shin Bet reveals Hamas’ methods
Earlier Monday, the Shin Bet accused Iran of funding the recent protests in the strip. According to the organization, an interrogation of a 19-year-old Hamas member from Gaza revealed the methods of the terror organization ruling the strip. The young man was arrested while making his way to Israel to steal security cameras and to cut the fence along the Gaza Strip.
Hamas was apparently instructing its members to cut the fence and steal security cameras to help pull and bring down the fence and to disrupt the IDF’s activity ahead of Nakba Day. The organization is working to market its activity to the media as a popular uprising rather than as violent activity led by its members.
The interrogation further revealed that Hamas members were taking an active part in the violent protest activities along the fence every Friday, carrying knives, scissors and bottles of gasoline.
The Hamas members’ job, according to the Shin Bet, is to provide Gaza’s residents with tires and help burn them, in a bid to create thick smoke and convince the residents to enter Israel, throw Molotov cocktails and prepare flaming kites and hand them over to the violent activists.
Hamas members themselves are forbidden from approaching the fence so as not to get killed or be apprehended by the security forces.
If the rioters do manage to bring down the fence, Hamas members are instructed to enter Israel with weapons and carry out terror attacks.
The Shin Bet statement refers to another Gaza resident, 21-year-old Salim Abu Daher, who was arrested on April 28 after infiltrating Israel “in a bid to burn fields and groves.” He told his investigators that Hamas members in plain clothes were providing the protestors with incendiary materials and that the organization was funding the violent activity, including sending flaming kites into Israel.
Another Palestinian, arrested on May 4, said Hamas was encouraging children and teenagers to cross the fence to steal IDF equipment. A 13-year-old boy was wounded the same time after taking part in the infiltration to steal a security camera at the Karni Crossing.
By Ynet News reporters Yoav Zitun, Elior Levy Matan Tzuri and Daniel Salami, Reuters and AP contributed to this report.