GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli gunfire on Saturday wounded 24 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head, health officials said. An Israeli policeman was critically wounded by Palestinian gunfire during the clashes along Gaza’s border with Israel.
The violence erupted after hundreds of Palestinians took part in a demonstration Saturday organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to draw attention to a stifling Israeli blockade of the territory. The demonstration grew violent after dozens of people approached the fortified border fence and threw rocks and explosives toward Israeli soldiers from behind a black smoke screen spewing from burning tires.
The Israeli military said that hundreds of demonstrators approached one area of the fence in northern Gaza and attempted to climb over while throwing explosives at troops. It said that troops fired tear gas and live rounds toward the protesters.
It also said a member of the paramilitary border police was hospitalized in grave condition after being shot. Amateur video from the Palestinian side showed a protester running up to the concrete barrier and firing a pistol into a hole used by an Israeli sniper.
In Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said 24 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire. Two of them, including the 13-year-old boy, were in critical condition.
The violent confrontations were reminiscent of the weekly border demonstrations organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers in 2018 and 2019 to draw attention to Israel’s stifling blockade over the tiny seaside territory.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought four wars and countless skirmishes since the Islamic 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 cease-fire 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, over 350 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. The protests ground to a halt after mediators, including Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations 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 families and Hamas salaries.
Since the May war, the new Israeli government, headed by Naftali Bennet, 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.
Running out of patience, 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 families in the Gaza Strip step aimed at easing tensions with the Palestinian territory in the wake of 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 the list of recipients. The payments are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
Hamas made the call for the protest at 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.