Israel says three ‘armed terrorists’ among 41 reported dead in Gaza border clashes

At least three of the 41 Palestinians reportedly killed Monday in conflicts ahead of the Jerusalem opening of the U.S. Embassy to Israel were “armed terrorists” caught trying to plant a bomb near the Gaza border fence, Israel’s military said.

More than 35,000 protesters amassed at a dozen places along the security fencing, with many engaging in skirmishes that pushed the death toll Monday to the highest in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border stalemate between the militant group Hamas and the Jewish state, according to the Associated Press.

Gaza health officials told the news agency that 41 people so far have been killed in Monday’s violence, and at the least 772 have been wounded.

May 14, 2018: Palestinian medics and protesters evacuate a wounded human during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. ( AP)

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, a key campaign promise of President Trump, has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.

“Moments ago, an IDF patrol foiled a bomb-laying assault by a cell of three armed terrorists near Rafah, close to the border, ” the Israeli military said Monday. “This is a particularly violent protest phase. The troops responded with fire at the terrorists. The terrorists were killed.”

Israel also said its aircraft targeted a Hamas post in Jabaliya after troops in the area arrived under flame. None of the Israeli soldiers were hurt. Afterwards in the working day, Israel’s Defense Forces( IDF) told a fighter plane struck five Hamas military training facilities in northern Gaza.

“Rioters are hurling tube bombs and firebombs at IDF troops, burning tires, throwing stones and burning objects, with the intention of setting flames in Israel and hurting IDF troops, ” a member of the Israeli army was quoted by The Times of Israel as telling.

Footage posted online by the IDF purportedly showed Palestinians pressed up against the border fencing throwing over objects that were on fire.

The demoes Monday — dubbed the “Great March of Return” by Palestinian media — are reported to be part of a campaign led by Hamas to break the decade-old border blockade of the territory imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas confiscated control of Gaza in 2007. Since weekly border marchings began in late March, dozens of Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 2,300 wounded in clashes.

Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, claimed Monday that Hamas is encouraging Palestinian civilians to inundate the border, with their own gunmen waiting in the wings to break through if a fence is breached.

Shin Bet said it received that datum during interrogations of members who already have been captured after crossing the security fence in recent weeks, The Hour of Israel reported.

May 14, 2018: Palestinian protesters burn tires during a protest on the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel. ( AP)

“There is a prohibition for Hamas operatives to approach the border, from a fear that they will be killed or captured by IDF troops, unless the security fencing falls and then they must enter, armed, into Israel under the encompas of the masses and carry out terror attacks, ” the agency told. “From the information we have, it appears Hamas is encouraging and sending protesters to the border fence in order to carry out violent acts and injury security infrastructure.”

Shin Bet also claimed that Iran is providing funding to Hamas for these border flare-ups, but did not elaborate.

A senior figure in the group, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S ., told Monday that the border protests will continue until Palestinians have won back their rights.

“We will continue on this path until the rights of the Palestinian people are attained, ” Ismail Radwan said, according to the Associated Press.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army had set up additional “layers” of security in and around communities near the border to defend Israeli civilians in case of a mass violate. He said there already had been several “significant attempts” to break through the fence.

“Even if the fence is violated, we will be able to protect Israeli civilians from attempts to murder or kidnap or kill them, ” he said.

In the West Bank, several thousand people gathered in the center of Ramallah, while hundreds marched to the Qalandiya crossing on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where protesters hurled stones at Israeli troops.

The U.S. said it chose today’s date for the embassy opening to coincide with the 70 th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.

May 14, 2018: Palestinians clash with Israeli troops following a protest against the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. ( AP)

But it also marks the anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba, ” or tragedy, a reference to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled from what is today Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s independence.

Most of the casualties Monday were in the southern Gaza towns of Khan Younis and Rafah. Israeli forces were firing volleys of tear gas to scatter the crowds, and the audio of heavy gunfire could be heard. Sirens were constantly crying as the wounded were evacuated on stretchers to nearby ambulances. Groups of young activists repeatedly approached the fencing, but were quickly scattered by gunfire and tear gas.

In one of the border areas east of Gaza City, Mohammed Hamami, a 40 -year-old civil servant, joined a crowd of hundreds of protesters, along with his mother and five children.

“Today we are here to send a message to Israel and its friends that we will never give up on our land, ” he told the Associated Press.

Clouds of black smoking from burning tires was also seen rising into the air. Earlier Monday, Israeli drones falling incendiary material had pre-emptively set ablaze some of the tires collected in advance by activists.

Protesters have use the thick smoke as cover against Israeli snipers perched on high sand berms on the other side of the border. The army accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to scheme or carry out attacks.

Leaflets fell over Gaza by army airplanes warned that those approaching the border “jeopardize” their lives. The warn said the army is “prepared to face all scenarios and will act against every attempt to damage the security fence or damage IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report .

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