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Israel strikes Hamas sites after border unrest leaves 11 Gazans wounded

Israeli airstrikes hit several targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the country’s military said, after Palestinian protesters flocked for the 12th straight day to the enclave’s frontier with Israel for demonstrations that have devolved into violent clashes with Israeli security forces.

There were no reports of casualties in Gaza from the Israeli airstrikes, but Palestinian health officials reported that Israeli forces shot and wounded 11 protesters during Tuesday’s rioting along the border.

The Israeli army said that it used a drone, helicopter and tank to strike multiple posts in northern and southern Gaza belonging to the Strip’s Hamas rulers in response to what it described as “violent riots” at the security fence between Gaza and Israel.

The protests involve Palestinians throwing stones and explosive devices, burning tires and, according to the Israeli military, shooting at Israeli soldiers.

Hamas, the terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007, has said that young Palestinians have organized the protests in response to surging violence in the West Bank and alleged provocations in Jerusalem.

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In recent days, Palestinians have also floated incendiary kites and balloons across the border into southern Israel, setting fire to farmland and unnerving Israeli civilian communities close to Gaza.

The unrest first erupted earlier this month, shortly after Hamas’ Finance Ministry announced it was slashing the salaries of civil servants by more than half, deepening a financial crisis in the enclave that has staggered under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for the past 16 years.

Under arrangements stemming from past ceasefire understandings with Israel, the gas-rich emirate of Qatar pays the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, provides direct cash transfers to poor families and offers other kinds of humanitarian aid.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it had begun the distribution of $100 cash transfers to some 100,000 needy families in the impoverished territory. Disbursements for civil servants’ salaries have suffered delays since May.

Masked Gazans prepare to launch fire-sparking balloons toward Israel in the Gaza Strip, September 23, 2023. (Palestinian social media)

The sudden violence at the security fence has stoked fears of a wider escalation between Israel and Hamas, which have fought four wars and engaged in numerous smaller battles since Hamas took over the territory.

On Sunday, three Palestinian terror groups announced plans to escalate their fight against Israel and to increase cooperation between them. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine made the statement after a meeting of top officials in Beirut.

The groups “stressed the importance of escalating the comprehensive resistance, especially the armed resistance, in the face of the Israeli occupation, and agreed to strengthen all forms of coordination between the three organizations on all issues.”

But experts said that the violent protests — which have persisted with Hamas’ tacit consent for nearly two weeks now — have more to do with Hamas’ efforts to manage the territory and halt its spiraling economic crisis than draw Israel into a new round of conflict.

Terror group leaders meet in Beirut on September 23, 2023. Left to right: Jamil Mezher, Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Ziad Nakhaleh, Secretary-General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad; and Saleh Al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas’s politburo. (Social media)

“It’s a tactical way of generating attention about their distress,” Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian research group based in the West Bank, said of Hamas. “It’s not an escalation but ‘warming up’ to put pressure on relevant parties that can come up with money to give to the Hamas government.”

Israel, he added, also seeks to contain the exchanges with its precise strikes on apparently abandoned militant outposts — so far avoiding a mishap that could spiral into a conflict that neither side wants.