Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is ready for another round of fighting with Israel following the violent clashes on the Gaza border on Saturday.
At the end of the latest hostilities in May, the Israel Defense Forces declared that Hamas had sustained a major military and moral blow. But lately the organization has reopened rocket-building manufacturing sites on a small scale.
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The assessment is that Hamas has an array of rockets that will suffice for another round of fighting, since its rocket caches weren’t badly hit during the last round in May. The civilian pressure on Hamas within Gaza is what will determine whether the group launches another round, defense sources say. The sources believe that it was such pressure that prompted Hamas to encourage the escalation over the weekend.
Moreover, defense and police sources who were in the field during the clashes said that the Israeli forces had refrained from heavy fire at Gazans who flocked to the border fence on Saturday, fearing harm to women and children who were in the area.
Israeli snipers fired some 45 bullets at the protesters, on top of several dozen Ruger bullets, which Israeli military officials say were aimed at protesters’ legs. Forty-one Palestinians were wounded, including a 13-year-old in critical condition.
Border Police officer Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli, 21, was critically wounded by Palestinian fire shot through a slit in the border fence.
Hamas did not take responsibility for the shooting of Shmueli, and has been transmitting messages through intermediaries that it was not involved in planning the incident. But the quantity of grenades, explosives and the pistol carried by the rioters who approached the soldiers cast doubt on Hamas’ claim.
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Border Police investigation
A preliminary Border Police investigation of the events showed that during the demonstrations Palestinians tried to grab the weapons of the undercover unit’s sharpshooters two or three times. “They rushed the gate surrounded by their women and children, and sent them forward so that we shouldn’t fire at them,” a police source said.
Another source noted that the security establishment didn’t correctly assess how violent the demonstration would be. “The arrival of a mass of people so close to the Israeli forces and an arm’s length from the fence is something that cannot happen,” said a security source. Security officials said that Israel is preparing now for another demonstration of thousands of Palestinians.
According to the Border Police investigation, the force got to the site of the demonstrations near the Karni Crossing at around 4 P.M. on Saturday in an effort to keep the Palestinian crowd from breaching the fence and entering Israeli territory.
At the start of the demonstration, which involved an estimated 2,000-3,000 people, a Hamas force blocked the masses from coming within a hundred meters of the fence. But at 5:30 P.M., according to the investigation, the Hamas men left the site and some allowed a few hundred youths to approach the fence.
According to a security source, at this point the Israeli forces were prevented from firing at the youths who ran toward the fence because they had surrounded themselves with women and children.
The source said the forces had to use crowd-dispersal methods, but did not do so to the extent necessary. “When there’s a main inciter with two women standing near him and maybe even a child in his arms, it makes the situation more difficult,” said a police source.
The findings show that the demonstrators got to the fence and tried to grab the soldier's weapons through cracks in the fence. The forces, who until that point were using crowd dispersal methods like sharpshooting and Ruger bullets, were surprised by the fact that the Palestinians were moving closer and responded with live pistol fire at Palestinians each time they tried to grab their weapons. “The disturbance became violent and dangerous, and the close range forced the use of pistol fire,” said a police source. “Every effort was responded to with live fire.”
According to the investigation, the forces did not notice the pistol carried by one of the Palestinians due to the smoke from the tires that were burned during the demonstration, and even after the shooting, they initially thought that a stone had been thrown. Shmueli was wounded in the shooting, and was evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center. In videos from the incident one sees a few Palestinians approaching a position in the fence, throwing stones on the Border Policeman’s weapon, while one of them fired through the crack.
According to the IDF, the position, which was erected in 2018 when protests near the border fence began, was built without a clear line of sight toward what is happening on the Palestinian side of the wall, which is why the fighters had difficulty responding when there were attempts to grab weapons and to the shooting through the crack.