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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Israel awards Gaza unit for ‘combatting’ border protests with deadly fire

Israeli military snipers have killed more than 130 Palestinians since March

Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza in the southern Gaza Strip October 5, 2018. Reuters
Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest calling for lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza in the southern Gaza Strip October 5, 2018. Reuters

Israel’s military has awarded its Gaza unit for its response to mass rallies on the border of the besieged coastal enclave since March, despite soldiers killing more than 190 Palestinians, many of them unarmed, from afar.

The military’s chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot presented a letter of commendation to the division at its headquarters in southern Israel.

“For the past seven months, the division has been working day in and day out to prevent mass breaches of the fence and serious terror attacks,” Mr Eisenkot said at the ceremony.

“The division is working every hour of the day, on holidays and workdays, while preserving the normal daily lives of residents of the communities in the Gaza periphery,” he said.

But rights groups have called their actions excessive and an “abhorrent” violation of international law. Israeli snipers killed scores and maiming hundreds of protesters by shooting either at their heads, chests or lower limbs, incapacitating them for long periods, some the rest of their lives.

Israeli troops have killed at least 195 Palestinians and wounded thousands since the protests began in March, Gaza medics say, and one Israeli soldier has been killed by a Gaza sniper.

In May, the enclave suffered its deadliest day since the 2014 war with Israel as protesters massed to oppose US President Donald Trump’s relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Israel maintains a crippling economic siege of the territory that has left its hospitals reeling and its people burdened by unemployment, restricted movement and a dearth of services. It has reduced a restricted fishing zone off the Gaza coast from nine to six nautical miles.

The protests against the siege have calmed since a secretive truce was struck between Israel and Hamas on August 9.

Israel says its operations on the border also include trying to detect and thwart tunnels dug by the territory’s rulers Hamas that lead into Israeli territory. The military is now building an underground barrier it says will prevent incursions from these tunnels.

Hamas has fought the Israeli military with tunnels, mortars and rockets fired at southern Israeli cities. Israel has developed a sophisticated missile defence system known as the Iron Dome that shoots rockets out of the sky before they can hit their targets.

Rocket alert sirens that sounded on Thursday in Israeli communities near the border with the Gaza Strip were a false alarm, the Israeli military said.

"The IDF's (Israel Defense Forces) Iron Dome aerial defence system launched one interceptor following a false identification. No launches were identified from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory," a military statement said.