Palestinian boy and Israeli policeman critically wounded in Gaza clashes

A wounded Palestinian is carried on a stretcher after taking part in a protest at the Israel-Gaza border. PHOTO: REUTERS

GAZA CITY, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES (AFP) - Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters clashed on Saturday (Aug 21) on the border with Gaza leaving dozens injured, with an Israeli policeman and a 13-year-old Palestinian boy both critically wounded, officials said.

The clashes, which saw crowds of young Palestinians hurling firebombs and trying to scale the Gaza border wall, with Israeli troops firing in return, came exactly three months since Israel and the enclave's Hamas rulers reached a truce following their deadliest fighting in years.

The Hamas-run Gazan health ministry said the injured included a 13-year-old boy left in a critical condition after being hit in the head.

"Forty-one civilians were wounded with various injuries," the ministry said in a statement, with Hamas saying "thousands" of protesters had taken part.

The Israeli army said that "hundreds of rioters" had tried to climb the Gaza Strip's northern border fence, hurling "explosive devices", with some trying to wrest a rifle off a soldier.

Volleys of tear gas were fired towards the protesters, who set fire to tyres.

The army said it had "responded with riot dispersal means, including when necessary live fire."

An officer was wounded when protesters opened fire.

"An Israeli Border Police soldier was critically injured by live fire emanating from Gaza, and is currently receiving medical treatment at a hospital," the army added.

Fragile ceasefire

Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai vowed not to back down.

"We will... continue to act firmly and with all our might against those who want to harm us and the security of the citizens of Israel for whom we are working," Shabtai said in a statement.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz, speaking on Israel's Channel 13 TV news, said that "these are definitely extremely serious events that will have a response."

Hamas had called a protest on Saturday to mark the burning 52 years ago of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

"Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line, and any attack on it will be met with valiant resistance from our people," the movement said in a statement.

Late on Saturday, Hamas and other groups in Gaza issued a joint statement in which they "saluted the heroic youth" who clashed with Israeli forces.

A wounded Palestinian is carried away after taking part in a protest at the Israel-Gaza border. PHOTO: REUTERS

The statement said Palestinians in Gaza would not stop "defending national rights" until Israel stopped its "aggression, blackmail and siege of the Gaza Strip."

The violence is some of worst since the May 21 ceasefire came into force.

Over 11 days in May, Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes in response to rockets fired from the enclave.

Hamas said it took action after Israeli security forces stormed Al-Aqsa in May.

Reconstruction in Gaza has stalled since the ceasefire, in part because of a crippling blockade Israel has maintained on the enclave since Hamas seized power in 2007.

On Thursday, Israel announced it would allow funds from Qatar to reach impoverished Palestinians in Gaza. Other restrictions remain.

The ceasefire Egypt brokered between Hamas and Israel has largely held, although there have been flareups.

Palestinian protesters evacuate an injured youth following clashes with Israeli security forces. PHOTO: AFP

On Monday Israel said its "Iron Dome" missile defence system intercepted a rocket fired by militants in Gaza into Israel, the first time since the recent battle.

That came after four Palestinians were killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

In 2018, Gazans began a protest movement demanding an end to Israel's blockade and a right for Palestinians to return to lands they fled after the Jewish state was founded.

The Hamas-backed weekly demonstrations, often violent, sputtered as Israel killed some 350 Palestinians in Gaza over more than a year.

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