JERUSALEM, Israel —Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman promised a much "harsher" response to demonstrations promoted by Hamas on the Gaza border after Friday's violent clashes led to 16 Palestinian deaths and hundreds of injuries. The United Nations had called for an investigation following the riots Friday between Israeli troops and as many as 30,000 Palestinians during the beginning of a so-called "March of Return" to take back the land of Israel, but the US blocked the move in the United Nations Security Council.
The march was organized by Hamas, the terror group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
Health officials in Gaza claimed 16 died and more than a thousand were wounded, mostly from tear gas dispersal and rubber coated steel bullets, at the beginning of a six-week long organized protest which Hamas said would be peaceful. Israel released the names and photographs of ten of the dead and said they were members of Palestinian terror groups. Hamas confirmed that five of those killed were members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades.
The protests began in conjunction with the start of the Jewish Passover and the Christian commemoration of Good Friday.
The United Nations Security Council met in closed session in New York Friday after the riots. A statement issued Friday by Israeli United Nations Ambassador Danny Danon read in part, "As we warned, the so-called peace march today turned out to be a well organized and violent terror gathering funded by Hamas. The sole purpose of these provocations is to threaten Israel and sow unrest." He added that "the international community must not be deceived by Hamas' attempts to conceal their crimes."
The Israeli military had been warning for days that it would not tolerate the encroachment by Gazans across the Israeli border. Soldiers were authorized to use live ammunition in the event of border incursions.
After the violence, The Jerusalem Post quoted IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, who warned in a phone briefing that "We won't let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip."
The IDF also claimed Hamas sent a 7-year-old girl across the border, as armed Israeli snipers were on the alert.
"IDF soldiers immediately recognized that it was a girl and ensured she returned safely to her parents. The Hamas terror organization uses women and children in a cynical manner, sending them to the fence," an Israeli military statement read.
Military spokesmen estimate 30,000 Palestinians took part in the demonstrations in five locations along the fence, with some "burning tires and throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at the fence and at IDF troops who are responding with riot dispersal measures and shooting at a number of key instigators."
US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert tweeted the United States is "deeply saddened by the loss of life in #Gaza today. We urged those involved to take steps to lower tensions."