Analysis: Gaza’s militant-led border riots

Credit: Ashraf Abu Amra

In recent weeks, Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions resumed a campaign of daily violence at the Gaza border by launching incendiary-laden balloons and rioting at the security fence. The resumption of hostilities is a controlled method by factions to apply pressure on Israel to adhere to an ‘understanding regarding the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the easement of the blockade,’ according to a Popular Resistance Committees spokesperson.

Since the start of the border riots in 2018, FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked dozens of Palestinian militants participating in the what is often referred to as the ‘Great March of Return.’ Some militants have been killed as they engaged in attacks against the IDF, others have been wounded during riots and some continue their participation in activities at the border to this day.

There are two types of ‘protests’ that Hamas sponsors: Daytime and nighttime riots at the security fence and the launching of incendiary-laden balloons towards southern Israel. Both activities have the goal of making daily life difficult for Israeli citizens living adjacent to the border and keeping the IDF engaged with repeated attacks by militants.

In a recent ‘protest’ at the security fence at the ‘Malakah’ location, east of Gaza City, a militant killed an Israeli border policeman after he shot at him point-blank range. Hamas denied responsibility for the attack but the denial shouldn’t be taken at face value since the group sponsored the event, transported Palestinians to the area where the attack was staged, and has documented history of using its militants to attack IDF soldiers during these ‘protests.’

In one example, Osama Duaij, identified more than a year ago by FDD’s Long War Journal as a member of al-Qassam Brigades, died last week after being shot at the security fence during a Hamas-sponsored riot. Hours after his death, al-Qassam Brigades acknowledged Duaij’s death and his membership in the organization.

Duaij was a veteran of the border riots and was previously injured by IDF gunfire at the Gaza security fence. On Aug. 21, he and other militants were at the security fence rioting when he was shot in the lower leg by an IDF sniper. Before Duaij was shot, footage taken by rioters showed him holding a hand grenade.

Duaij’s death was covered extensively by online channels affiliated with Palestinian militant factions in Gaza. Adding to his status in Hamas, his body was carried by members of al-Qassam Brigades’ elite ‘Nukhba‘ unit during his funeral.

Hamas and media outlets have portrayed the riots as ‘demonstrations’ and ‘protests’ but this a deeply flawed mischaracterization of the reality of events on the ground. Hamas and other factions have been directing militants to attack IDF soldiers at the security fence during these events for more than three years.

The case of Osama Duaij is only one of dozens of militants FDD’s Long War Journal has been tracking who have previously and currently engage in the violence at the border, including the launching of incendiary-laden balloons.

It’s noteworthy to mention that not all Palestinians participating in the riots at the security fence are militants. Additionally, children and teenagers have also been documented participating in these activities.

Despite the clear participation of militants at the border riots, Hamas has yet to publicly acknowledge it has been orchestrating a military campaign under the guise of civilian protests as a way to pressure Israel into allowing financial aid into Gaza that will largely benefit it and other militant groups.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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