Seven Palestinians, including two boys age 12 and 14, were killed by Israeli military fire during clashes along the Gaza Strip's central and eastern sections of the border fence, the Gaza Health Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry identified the 12-year old as Yousef Abu Zarifa and said he was shot in the head east of Khan Younis. The 14-year old, Mohammad Naif Al-Houm, sustained a bullet to the chest near Al-Bureij refugee camp, the ministry said. The other fatalities were identified as Iyad Khalil Ahmad Ashar, 18, Mohammad Ali Anshasi, 18, Muhammad Bassem Shchasa, 24, Mohammed Ashraf Al-Awadah, 26, and Mohammad Walid Haniyeh, 33.
A total of 506 Palestinians were injured in the clashes, the ministry said, some 90 of whom by Israeli fire. Of those wounded, 210 have been evacuated to hospitals.
The Israeli army said it struck northern Gaza twice in response to grenades and explosives devices being thrown at soldiers stationed along the border fence, adding that one of the airstrikes targeted a Hamas outpost.
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According to the IDF, Some 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated in various locations along the fence, with protesters burning tires and hurling grenades, explosive devices and stones at soldiers. The IDF said it responded with riot control measures in accordance with the open-fire policy.
The IDF added that a number of suspects managed to illegally cross the border into Israel before immediately turning back to Gaza. A firefighter and rescue worker said that Palestinians hurled incendiary balloons toward the border area, starting six fires.
Israeli defense officials believe that the chances of a military confrontation with Hamas have increased significantly in recent weeks. According to senior military officials, unless progress is made on reconciliation talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and an alternative to UNRWA's aid is found, it's only a matter of time before a conflict ensues.
The defense establishment’s view isn’t new. But recent moves by Hamas have strengthened its assessment that Hamas seeks a conflict with Israel, even if only a limited one.
Hamas recently resumed demonstrations along the Gaza border and set up special units to harass Israeli soldiers at night and during the early morning. These come on top of existing units for tactics such as incendiary balloons, tire burning and naval operations.
Hamas’ aims to foment clashes with the IDF throughout the week, rather than only on Friday afternoons, as used to be the case. Moreover, Israel has noticed that Hamas has begun making preparations for a confrontation; for example, it has held a home front defense exercise and continues to train its combat forces.