Twenty-four Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, and an Israeli police officer were wounded during clashes Saturday along the Gaza border during a demonstration, according to officials.
The demonstration was organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to protest the Israeli blockade of the territory.
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 hundreds of demonstrators approached one area of the fence in northern Gaza and attempted to climb over while throwing explosives at troops. It said 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.
In Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said 24 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire. Two of them, including the 13-year-old, were in critical condition.
Tensions growing over blockade
Israel and Hamas 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 ceasefire after 11 days of fighting.
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-Israel border.
During border protests in 2018 and 2019, more than 350 Palestinians were killed. 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 Bennett, has blocked the Qatari aid, calling for a mechanism to ensure Hamas doesn’t benefit from the cash.
It has also 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.
At least 254 killed in May
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 — a 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 the 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 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.