Israeli troops engage thousands of Palestinian protesters in Gaza; deaths reported

The situation in the Gaza Strip has dramatically heated up overnight as Israeli Defense Force troops clashed with an estimated 17,000 mostly Palestinian protestors.

Early reports from Israeli media claimed that at least five were dead, while another 370-plus were wounded or injured. The deaths reportedly came from rubber bullets and live ammo. The death and injury figures come from a Hamas-run health ministry.

Palestinians essentially rushed the Israeli border with rocks and firebombs in what is being called a “March of Return” demonstration. The protests are spread among five main sites.

Israeli army officials confirmed that troops fired at the “main instigators.” The IDF said protesters were lighting tires on fire and throwing them along with Molotov cocktails and rocks.

Earlier this morning, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli tank fire. Hamas officials said he was merely tending his land, but the IDF suspected he was planting a roadside IED.

In response to the surge at the Gaza-Israel border, the IDF deployed additional infantry battalions and about 100 snipers. Israeli police and border guards were added as well.

The buildup has come over the past few days, ahead of the March of Return protests which are scheduled to last six weeks. There are also armed Palestinian Islamic Jihad forces in the area.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned any Palestinians approaching the security fence with Israel were putting their lives at risk and he advised against it.

The protests come amid rising tensions over U.S. plans to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. But the violence seen this morning is by far the most serious threat to stability in the region that we’ve seen in a while. We will be monitoring the situation closely and will, of course, address it in more detail in next week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary.

Will these demonstrations and clashes lead to a new, wider war in the Middle East? Each week, Jon Dougherty, our Strategic Threats Analyst, produces a situation report on the potential for war with Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. He monitors foreign media outlets for information not being reported in the U.S., and then delivers updates on the risk of war in each of the four flashpoint regions. If you want to get a head start in understanding what a war with these countries is looking like, then you can get access to his Strategic Intelligence service with a monthly or annual subscription.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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