Hundreds of Palestinians on Friday gathered at the Israel-Gaza Strip border for the 12th consecutive week of protests while also marking the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
About 2,000 faithful gathered in the border area to pray on Eid al-Fitr, which comes at the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, before the numbers dwindled as people headed home to their families for traditional gatherings.
Some remaining demonstrators set tires on fire, sending acrid black columns of smoke over southern Israeli communities.
The protests stem from difficulties tied to a years-long blockade of Gaza and Palestinians’ push to reclaim ancestral homelands in what is now Israel.
Since March, demonstrators have gathered at the border amid a growing humanitarian crisis. The Gaza Strip has been held under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas took control of the area from the Palestinian Authority more than a decade ago.
Also Friday, a booby-trapped balloon bearing the message “I [heart] YOU” landed on an Israeli highway, blocking traffic for about an hour while authorities disarmed it.
The Israeli army said it fired warning shots at a motorcycle and at “a group of Palestinians preparing explosive balloons” in central Gaza, near the Bureij refugee camp.
Israel says 25,000 acres of farmland and national parks have been lost to blazes ignited by the small airborne devices launched from Gaza.
The Israeli army said it “views the use of incendiary balloons and kites with great severity and will operate to prevent their use,” though it is not defining the balloons and kites as weapons, and has refrained from directly targeting the launchers.
Palestinian reports said an Israeli drone had attacked a group preparing kites as tensions simmered.
Late Friday the Israeli army said one of its aircraft had “targeted an observation post belonging to the Hamas terror organization” near a site from which “arson balloons were launched towards Israel.”
About 130 Palestinians have lost their lives in clashes with Israeli troops since the weekly marches began on March 30.
On Wednesday, the United Nations convened an emergency session to address the crisis in Gaza, condemning Israel for “excessive use of force” and rejected a U.S. amendment which would have condemned Hamas, the Islamist militia that rules the Gaza Strip, an enclave of about 2 million people.
The resolution called for the “protection of the Palestinian civilian population” in Gaza.
Attending morning prayers near the border, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the U.N. vote proved the ongoing protests have “revived the Palestinian issue.”
He said the protests would continue beyond the holiday and praised West Bank Palestinians, who for the first time this week held rallies in solidarity with Gaza.
Several hundred people gathered in downtown Ramallah midweek to demand the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized government, halt sanctions it has imposed on Hamas, including electrical cuts and a lack of potable water, that have contributed to the hardship.
Special correspondents Tarnopolsky reported from Jerusalem and Salah from Gaza City.