The Israeli military said Friday that it prevented Hamas from breaching the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel to carry out acts of terrorism under the cover of a Palestinian protest.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials also said that Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that rules Gaza, sought a "victory picture" of its members breaking through the barrier, the Times of Israel reported.
Some 20,000 Gazans participated in a Hamas-backed "March of Return" demonstration at the Gaza border, compared to more than 30,000 who were at last Friday's protests, which also turned violent.
Palestinian officials said nine people were killed on Friday. Israeli military sources told the Times that the IDF believes everyone who was shot was involved in violence.
During the demonstrations, Gazans burned numerous tires near the border to create large billows of black smoke to hamper the vision of Israeli soldiers guarding the security fence. The IDF released video footage of Gazans attempting to breach the fence under cover of the smoke.
"What we're seeing is violent disturbances under cover of which Hamas is trying to carry out acts of terrorism," said Maj-Gen. Eyal Zamir, the head of the IDF's Southern Command. He called the tactic "manipulation by Hamas."
Hamas' founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews worldwide
"Hamas sent children out ahead [toward the fence], cynically using them," IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said Friday. "There were attempts to carry out acts of terrorism … using the smoke [from burning tires] for cover."
Manelis explained that while demonstrators threw eight explosive devices and numerous petrol bombs and attempted "to cut through the fence," the IDF ensured the fence was not breached.
The Palestinian Authority said it "strongly condemned" what it described as Israel's killing of "peaceful" protesters in Gaza. In a statement, the PA called on its envoys to the Arab League, United Nations, and European Union to work with the international community to "stop this deliberate brutality and killing of innocent and defenseless people."
Hamas has said that it plans to hold several weeks of demonstrations against Israel as part of its "March of Return," culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel's 70th Independence Day.
The IDF is bracing for further incidents at the Gaza border in the coming days and another organized demonstration next Friday.