Israel bombs Gaza after soldier critically injured during mass riots along border

The injured soldier, later identified as St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli, 21, was shot in his head from point-blank range after rioters attempted to grab his rifle through a slit in the barrier.

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

The Israeli Air Force (AIF) attacked several sites in central and northern Gaza used for storing and manufacturing weapons on Saturday night, following mass riots along the Gaza border fence on that lead to an Israeli soldier being critically injured.

The soldier, later identified as St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli, 21, was shot in his head from point-blank range. He was evacuated by helicopter to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for emergency surgery. As of Sunday morning, he is still in intensive care and in life-threatening condition.

According to Israeli reports, Shmueli is a sniper in the Border Police Mista’arvim special unit, which operates undercover by assimilating among Arab populations and carrying out intelligence gathering, law enforcement, hostage rescue and counter-terrorism operations. He was deployed along the Gaza border to assist the IDF in the anticipated riots over the weekend.

“This is a very tough incident, the entire unit has suffered a blow,” a senior Border Police officer told Maariv.

Videos circulating online showed the shocking moment when Palestinian rioters try to grab Shmueli’s rifle through a slit in the barrier, when another rioter carrying a pistol suddenly runs toward the opening and fires several bullets through it.

“The soldier fought back and managed to prevent [the rioters] from stealing his weapon,” the IDF reported, before confirming that the incident led to Shmueli’s serious injury.

Following the incident,  Shmueli’s parents, Yossi and Nitza, blamed the IDF for failing to protect their son, according to Israeli media, and questioned the IDF’s rules of engagement that they believe led to the tragic incident.

“How do they let them get to close to the soldiers? How can they get so close and yet we don’t shoot? It’s our rules of engagement. They came there to kill him. This is a big failure of the IDF,” they said.

Starting on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Palestinians approached the security barrier and confronted Israeli troops that were deployed along the border, leading to major clashes throughout the day and to dozens of injuries.

Over 40 rioters were injured, including a 13-year-old who is in critical condition, according to Palestinian reports.

“During the riots hundreds of protesters approached the barrier in the northern part of the Strip. The protesters attempted to climb the barrier and confronted IDF soldiers. The troops were well prepared and utilized riot dispersal means, as well as Ruger fire and sniper fire when necessary,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

Videos show rioters burning tires and rolled them along the border.

The riots, which lasted for about 3 hours, were part of a mass rally organized by Hamas to mark 52 years since the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and attended by thousands of Palestinians marching near the border from the early afternoon.

The rally that quickly developed into violent clashes with the IDF, was carried out despite Israel’s recent approval of a deal that would allow the transfer of Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip via the United Nations.

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Prior to Israel’s attack overnight, Defense Minister Benny Gantz addressed the events along the border in an interview with Channel 13 and said that “these are very serious incidents and we will respond to them.”