Israeli troops used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse Palestinian protesters who marched to the Gaza border on Wednesday to protest at Israel’s ongoing economic blockade. At least 10 protesters who the military said burned tyres and threw stones were injured after Israel warned it would act forcefully to quell any disturbances.
As part of the army’s preparations for the protests, additional troops were deployed to the border, including special forces, a tank company and extra snipers.
Israel insists it will continue striking Hamas targets in Gaza in response to violence during protests and incendiary balloons launched by militants.
This week has seen the heaviest cross-border fighting between the two sides since the 11-day conflict in May which left more than 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel dead.
Hamas-backed activists have launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel several times in recent weeks, causing fires on the Israeli side of the border. On Saturday, a violent demonstration along the Israeli border fence left a member of the Hamas military wing dead and dozens of protesters injured. An Israeli soldier was also critically wounded after being shot at close range by a member of Hamas’s security forces.
Early on Tuesday, Israeli jets carried out a series of airstrikes on Hamas targets in response to incendiary balloons and it appeared the situation may again spiral out of control.
Egypt, which has traditionally played the role of mediator between Israel and Hamas, informed Israel that Wednesday’s protest on the Gaza border would be relatively quiet and without violence, saying Hamas had committed to preventing the protesters from clashing with Israeli troops. However, Israel was given a similar message last week before the protests on Saturday escalated.
Egypt responded by closing the Rafah border crossing with Gaza.
Cairo is also pushing ahead with efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire and, according to the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper, Egyptian officials hope to take advantage of the new Israeli government’s approach to Gaza, which they said differed from that of the previous government, to reach a long-term truce.
The agreement will include a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza and the release of Palestinian security prisoners in return for the release of two Israeli civilians believed held in Gaza and the remains of two Israeli soldiers.
Speaking on Wednesday, Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, said Israel had only two interests in Gaza. “Security, and the return of the Israeli civilians and soldiers held hostage by Hamas. The development of Gaza is conditioned upon these two requirements,” he said.