IMAGE Militants are amongst Palestinian protesters at Gaza's border with Israel.(ABC News)
Rising fears of another war as violence intensifies at Gaza's border
By Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek
Posted 2 hours ago
The death toll is rising, along with fears of another war, as violence on the border between Israel and Gaza intensifies.
At least 12 Palestinians have been killed at the border in the last 10 days
There are militants amongst the protesters that Hamas transports to the border
The World Bank and UN warn that Gaza's economy has collapsed
Israel has deployed more troops, while the Islamic militant group which governs Gaza, Hamas, has stepped up protests and incursions.
The protests began as weekly marches at the fence, but now there is almost-daily unrest and frequent attempts to breach the border.
The death toll from Israeli fire in response has jumped sharply. At least 12 people have died in the last 10 days, according the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Dr Mkhaimar Abusada, political science professor at Gaza's Al Azhar University, says that is because peace talks between Hamas and Israel broke down.
"Unfortunately everything collapsed about a month ago and that's why Hamas has stepped up the protests along the border between Gaza and Israel," he said.
IMAGE The death toll has increased on the border between Israel and Gaza.(AP: Khalil Hamra)
"So it puts more pressure on the Israelis to lift their siege and blockade and also come to terms with Hamas and introduce a long-term cease fire between Hamas and Israel."
Militants amongst peaceful protesters
Hamas transports protesters to the fence, where many peacefully demonstrate.
But among the civilian protesters are militant units whose aim is damage Israeli military installations, infrastructure, or nearby farmland.
"They call it the balloon unit, the upheavals unit, and also the tyre unit," Dr Abusada said
"There are a number of units who are dedicated to put more pressure on the Israeli soldiers."
Some protesters light tyres and sling stones, and the Israeli Defence Forces say some throw grenades and cut the border fence.
The IDF has responded with tear gas, live fire and occasional air strikes.
The United Nations says more than 20,000 people have been injured and 205 killed since the protests began on March 30.
IMAGE Peace talks between Hamas and Israel have broken down.(AP: Adel Hana)
One Israeli solder has been killed.
The protests are ostensibly against Israel's restrictions on Gaza.
Both Israel and Egypt limit the movement of people and goods, but Israel controls most of the border and also enforces a maritime blockade.
The World Bank and the United Nations have warned that the territory's economy has collapsed and living conditions are dire.
Gaza protesters want the blockade to end
Dr Abusada says Hamas insists the protests are a genuine expression of people's unhappiness about the situation in Gaza.
"Hamas is saying the Palestinians are sick and tired of the siege, the Palestinians are no longer able to survive this Israeli siege and blockade, that the Palestinians have no future in Gaza," he said.
"They see no future at the moment and they are no longer able to survive this deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza."
Israel has brought more troops and weaponry to the border in response to the recent unrest.
"The Chief of Staff... and senior IDF and ISA (Israeli Security Agency) officials decided on widescale reinforcements in the southern command in the coming days and the continuation of a determined policy to thwart terror activity and prevent infiltrations into Israel from the Gaza Strip," the IDF said in a statement.
But former military officer Ofer Shelah, now an opposition member of parliament on Israel's Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, believes the solution is to improve conditions inside Gaza and weaken residents' trust in Hamas.
"The problem is when you have a desperate population in Gaza it's easy for Hamas to manoeuvre them their way to use them as a human shield for their aggression against Israel," he said.
"We must do whatever we can to separate them, and once Hamas cannot use them as a human shield the possibility of a major clash decreases in a great way."
Israel and Hamas both say a long-running conflict between Hamas, which governs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, is making it harder to improve conditions in Gaza.
Ofer Shelah says Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is responsible for many of the problems in Gaza, because the PA restricts the importation of fuel for electricity generation, and salaries for public servants.
"When he (Mr Abbas) stops money going to Gaza, when he does his worst to hinder the movement of funds from other sources, then he's trying to push Israel and Hamas to war in which his people will be the primary sufferers."
Smoke and fire used to disrupt Israeli communities close to border
The protests are starting to affect Israeli communities close to the border as well.
For months Gazans have been sending kites and balloons with incendiary devices attached over the border to set fire to crops.
But southern district fire service commander Schmulik Friedman says the protesters have recently started trying to cover communities near the border with toxic smoke.
IMAGE Firefighters use ventilators to disperse smoke that causes problems for Israeli communities.(ABC News: Eric Tlozek)
"What they are trying to do is make a lot of smoke that goes on these villages and makes them impossible to breathe," he said.
"The smoke is very poisonous and of course it's very hard to breathe it and it's not good for health and they try to cover all the villages with smoke."
Firefighters are experimenting with using giant ventilators and plumes of water to push the smoke away.
They are preparing for many more weeks spent responding to protests.
"It's already seven months, so it's not easy," Major General Friedman said.
"We are here for the benefit of the citizens... we will continue to do it as long as it's necessary."