Hamas has been preparing for months for a storming of the fence, knowing it would end in dozens of deaths – a result voice in Israel warned would come should Gaza’s economic crisis not be eased.
The plumes of smoke rising in the distance from Gaza were already visible on the drive from the Negev town of Netivot Monday morning. Over the next several hours, the smoke grew thicker from burning tires at dozens of protest sites along the entire Strip, from the area across from Netiv Ha’asara in the north to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in the south.
Monday marked the eighth round of Hamas-led protests since the beginning of the current wave on March 30. One conclusion of the organizers was the need to stretch out the friction along a broad area and at a great number of points to make it more difficult for Israel to deal with it. The army deployed 13 battalions, backed up by the police, along the entire border, with a relatively senior officer – battalion commander or above – in charge of each sector. The army called a complete halt to training of its conscript forces this week and turned its attention to the Strip, and to a lesser extent to the West Bank.
Palestinian protesters gathered fairly slowly at first. At noon the army still estimated their number at about 10,000, and the level of the clashes was relatively low. But then came a shift. Tens of thousands more Gazans streamed to the border (at the height of the protest there were apparently 40,000 to 50,000 people there) and at the same time the friction became more severe. Many hundreds of protesters tried to reach the fence itself. The sound of exploding tear gas canisters gradually joined the sniper fire. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas had paid Gazans to reach the fence and saw to it that many young women were in the first lines of protesters. In three cases soldiers shot armed squads who tried to place explosive devices at the fence and opened fire on IDF forces.
Through binoculars, from various observation points a few hundred meters from the fence, it could be seen that the protests were planned and controlled by Hamas. Masses of people had gathered near the Karni crossing, opposite Kibbutz Nahal Oz, and suddenly began to move southward along the border in an orderly convoy, with men on motorcycles nearby. The convoy on foot was stopped about two kilometers from there, at which point it began to reorganize, opposite an earthen embankment nearby where Israeli sharpshooters were stationed. Within minutes, clashes broke out there, with ambulances rushing to wait from behind for the evacuation of the first killed and injured.
The beefed-up presence of the army could clearly be seen on Monday. Soldiers were almost everywhere. Snipers were stationed along the fence, and behind them, troops in the fields of the kibbutzim and moshavim. A little farther back, in parking areas, police Special Forces were waiting if needed to handle a mass breach of the fence and a move deep into Israeli territory. That didn’t happen, but many Palestinians were hit in the clashes along the fence.
By 6 P.M., when the protesters left, as directed from on high by Hamas, 43 Palestinians had been killed, hundreds wounded by live fire and hundreds more by inhaling tear gas. A great deal of tear gas was used, but it dissipated quickly in the open areas, as in previous demonstrations. It seems that its impact is minor and fleeting. Sniper fire was the main weapon, and the number of casualties on the bloodiest day in Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 was accordingly high.
Source – Haaretz