(Bloomberg) -- Israeli troops killed four Palestinians along the Gaza Strip border on Friday as the Hamas militant group that rules the coastal strip struggled to revive a flagging protest campaign.
About 10,000 people protested at five spots along the border, sending flaming kites and airborne pipe bombs into Israel and hurling rocks and grenades, the Israeli army said. At least 100 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.
Gaza’s 25-mile-long border with Israel has been a deadly flashpoint since March 30 amid a protest campaign pressing the Palestinian demand to reclaim land they fled or were expelled from around Israel’s creation in 1948. Israeli forces have killed more than 120 Palestinians during the protests. Most were involved in violence, according to the army; Palestinians say Israeli troops fire indiscriminately on peaceful demonstrators.
Hamas has failed to bring large crowds to the border in recent weeks after 62 Palestinians were killed May 14 at a protest timed to coincide with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Friday’s turnout, on the final Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, was a far cry from the million-strong cohort Hamas pledged to send marching toward Jerusalem. At their peak, protests drew about 40,000 people.
“Despite great effort on the part of Hamas and Iran, fewer and fewer” Gazans are arriving at the border, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Twitter on Friday.
The skies in the confrontation zone were filled Friday with hundreds of kites, a cheap improvised weapon that has become the protesters’ most effective. The kites have burned thousands of acres of farmland and nature preserves inside Israel, and the army has struggled to counter them. Firefighters were battling at least 20 blazes on the Israeli side of the border, Hadashot News TV reported Friday.
A 22-year-old Gazan who gave his name only as Mohammed said he sends flaming kites, which cost about 5 shekels ($1.50) to make, into Israel almost every day.
“This tactic keeps the Jews busy extinguishing the flames, while we infiltrate and go back to our lands,” he said. “We will keep flying kites with Molotov cocktails attached until the goals of the great march of return are achieved, namely ending the siege on the Gaza Strip.”
Some 4,300 acres (1,740 hectares) of Israeli farmland and nature reserves have been burned over the past two months, according to Israeli estimates. Israel has said it will withhold tax money due to the Palestinians to compensate for damage from the kites.
Daniel Rahamim, a spokesman for Kibbutz Nahal Oz, whose houses are just a few hundred yards from the border, said about 250 acres of kibbutz land has been lost to fires in the past two months. “Fields of wheat that we worked on for months, in one minute the whole field burns up,” Rahamim said.
Hadashot News said Friday was the first time Palestinians sent pipe bombs attached to kites and balloons into Israel. They exploded in mid-air, the army said.
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