Iran fuels further violence at Israel-Gaza border

A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli forces during clashes along the Gaza border. Photo: AAP Image/CrowdSpark/Mhmed Ali

ANGER is on the rise in Gaza again, after four deaths and hundreds of injuries in the latest protests on the border with Israel.

As The AJN went to press, the UN was about to convene an emergency session, called by Israel’s critics who claim outrage at the latest harm to civilians. But Israel says that it was protecting its border, faced with attempts to breach it and violent protesters attacking soldiers.

The Israeli military said that last Friday it faced 10,000 Palestinian protesters in five locations along the border and reported that some were “burning tyres as well as hurling grenades, pipe bombs and rocks at IDF troops”. The events were a continuation of the March of Return, which began two-and-a-half months ago.

The IDF described the Palestinians who gathered as “rioters” and said that as well as attacking soldiers and trying to damage infrastructure they launched “dozens” of kites and balloons with burning material or explosives attached to them.

Palestinians came out in force for the latest gathering as it marked the 51st anniversary of Israel’s success in the Six-Day War and the Iranian-instituted Quds Day.

One of the key galvanising events for the march was a Quds Day event a day earlier, where Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to the Supreme Leader of Iran, spoke in a video address, promising financial support to the families of the “martyrs”. He claimed an intifada was the only way to deal with the “dangers” facing Jerusalem.

Less than 24 hours before the latest violence the IDF dropped flyers over Gaza wishing residents “a blessed Ramadan” and urging them not to take part in “violent riots” at the fence. Do not “permit Hamas to turn you into a tool to advance its narrow agenda”, the IDF urged.

But Hamas is pushing Gaza residents hard to take part, sometimes with cash payments for participation. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, was upbeat this week about the protests, saying: “Some goals have been achieved thanks to these protests, and they will continue until we reach all our goals.”

In his comments to a Russian news site, Haniyeh claimed that the gatherings had helped Palestinians to “confirm their right for the return to the abandoned territories”.

Israel’s response to recent developments has been to deploy large forces on the border, to take down as many kites as possible, and to hit Hamas military infrastructure. The IDF scored a success on Sunday when it managed to detect and destroy a terror tunnel that gave Hamas secret access to the sea.

“This was a unique terror tunnel which facilitated concealed exit from the Hamas post, allowing underwater access for terrorists to stage attacks against the State of Israel,” the military announced.

As the IDF carried out its operations, it faces controversy over some of its actions in the protests to date. One of the fiercest controversies relates to the death of Razan Al-Najjar on June 1. Palestinians say she was targeted by Israel, but the IDF says she wasn’t targeted and is investigating how she died.

In the latest twist, Israeli officials have released a video of her throwing what looks like a smoke grenade, and of her describing herself as a “human shield”. The video suggests that she was not the “merciful angel” that Palestinians presented her as, but rather a human shield for terrorists.

Palestinians say that she was throwing a grenade away from people to avoid harm, and that she went on to say that she meant human shield in the sense of saving people, but the quote was edited.

There is disagreement in the Israeli establishment about the best response to Gaza’s humanitarian situation. Many in the military want Israel to increase humanitarian provision, in a bid to lower tensions. But Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants such a move conditioned on Hamas concessions in relation to two Israeli men – one Jewish and one Bedouin – being held in Gaza. Lieberman says that they should receive visits from the Red Cross.

Around the Gaza border this week, there were scenes of blazing fields and charred ground, as a result of more than 20 new fires started by kites. Altogether, there have been 285 fires so far, burning hundreds of acres of land.

“At the moment there is tremendous damage to the animals that are in the forests,” said firefighter Danny Ben-David, adding that forests will take “many years to rehabilitate”. In one village, Karmei Katif, residents were told to evacuate their homes for a few hours on Sunday, when fires raged.

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee has unanimously approved plans to deduct the cost of compensation for damage caused by the kites from tax money from funding for the Palestinian Authority. “Justice needs to be done here,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Whoever burns fields should know that there will be a price.”

In the border city of Sderot on Monday, the local council ran a workshop to reclaim kites as a fun toy instead of a terror tool. Local children gathered to make their own kites and hear stories about kites.

Sderot’s mayor Alon Davidi said, “As opposed to our neighbours from the Gaza Strip who have turned the wonderful hobby of flying kites into an act of terrorism, with terrible damage to agriculture, the children of Sderot and the surrounding communities are returning the kite to its source”.

“We are busy with positive things and optimism and the desire that our children always be happy. I also call on the children of Gaza to enjoy playing with kites and not be drawn astray by terrorist elements. Ours are kites of life, not death.”

NATHAN JEFFAY