Five Palestinians killed in Gaza blast

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada /  September 15, 2023

Israel’s customs authority announced on Thursday that it had intercepted 16 tons of explosive material destined for Gaza.

One day earlier, an explosion killed five Palestinians along the Strip’s eastern boundary during protests marking the anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the coastal enclave.

Israeli authorities said that containers that arrived in Ashdod from Turkey in July were flagged by inspectors and later found to be carrying ammonium chloride, a chemical that Israel says is used to manufacture rockets.

Hamas authorities in Gaza reportedly rejected Israel’s claims as a fabrication.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesperson for Hamas, said that “the occupation is forging lies as a pretext to tighten the blockade on Gaza.”

Last week, Israel halted all shipments out of Gaza for three days after explosives were allegedly found in goods being moved out of the territory.

Israel controls the movement of goods in and out of Gaza via the Karam Abu Salem checkpoint.

Israel has imposed a blockade on the territory since 2007, when Hamas took control over Gaza’s internal affairs.

Under the blockade, Israel severely restricts the transfer of what it calls dual-use goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, including building materials, medical equipment and agricultural supplies.

Israel closed the crossings it controls along Gaza’s boundary, along with those in the West Bank, after midnight on Thursday through Sunday night for the Jewish High Holidays.

Israel imposes a general closure on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza during major Jewish and national holidays.

Deadly explosion

On Wednesday, five Palestinians in Gaza were killed in a blast apparently caused by an explosive device that detonated accidentally.

The deadly explosion occurred during a protest along Gaza’s eastern boundary with Israel marking the anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the territory in 2005.

The Israeli military claimed that protesters had attempted to plant the explosive device along the boundary fence “to hurt Israelis.”

Al-Jazeera reported that “witnesses told local media that when a Palestinian Explosives Engineering Unit was trying to defuse an explosive device, Israeli forces opened fire, preventing them from escaping the blast.”

Last week, Palestinians detonated a large explosive device along the Gaza-Israel boundary fence:

Apparently leaked footage recorded by the Israeli military also documented the massive blast.

Protests along the Gaza-Israel boundary resumed in August. Massive demonstrations dubbed the Great March of Return were held on a regular basis for nearly two years beginning in early 2018.

The protests were aimed at ending the Israeli siege on Gaza and allowing Palestinian refugees to exercise their right of return as enshrined in international law. Some two-thirds of Gaza’s population of more than two million people are refugees from lands just beyond the boundary fence.

More than 215 Palestinian civilians, including more than 40 children, were killed during those demonstrations, and thousands more wounded by live fire during those protests between March 2018 and December 2019.

A UN commission of inquiry found that Israel’s use of lethal force against protesters warrants criminal investigation and prosecution and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Excessive use of force against Great March of Return protests is expected to be a major focus of the International Criminal Court’s Palestine investigation, should it move forward.

Revival of resistance

Hamas had reportedly been mulling a revival of the protests and other activities along the boundary that Israel views as provocative amid worsening conditions in Gaza.

The pro-Israel think tank Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) said last month that armed groups in the West Bank, inspired by tactics used previously in Gaza, are exploiting the weakness of the Palestinian Authority in the north of the territory to develop new military infrastructure to confront the occupation.

Palestinian fighters in the West Bank are seeking to make the maintenance of settlements and military deployment in the territory too costly for Israel, just as the armed resistance forced Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza’s interior in 2005.

Khalid al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, told the publication Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya in 2012 that the Israelis left the territory “against their will.”

Al-Batsh added that “with its simple and primitive means, the resistance was able to evict the Israelis from the Gaza Strip in less than five years, since the start of the [second] intifada.”

Earlier this year, Al-Batsh said that “the situation in the West Bank is similar to the situation before the occupation’s withdrawal from Gaza.”

“The occupation cannot resist its defeat, so we have the power to force it to leave our lands. We must unify our efforts to fight one of the most dangerous colonial states in the world.”

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada