7 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire, scores hurt in Gaza border protest

Published April 6, 2018
An injured Palestinian protestor is carried by fellow demonstrators during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration. — AFP
An injured Palestinian protestor is carried by fellow demonstrators during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration. — AFP
Relatives chant slogans while carry the body of Osama Qudeihm 38, Hamas policeman, durning his funeral in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, on Friday, April 6, 2018. Qudeihm was shot during clashes with Israeli troops along Gaza's border with Israel. —AP
Relatives chant slogans while carry the body of Osama Qudeihm 38, Hamas policeman, durning his funeral in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, on Friday, April 6, 2018. Qudeihm was shot during clashes with Israeli troops along Gaza's border with Israel. —AP
A Palestinian boy holds his national flag amidst burning tyres during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border. — AFP
A Palestinian boy holds his national flag amidst burning tyres during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border. — AFP
Palestinians burn tyres during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah. — AFP
Palestinians burn tyres during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah. — AFP

Israeli troops killed seven men on Friday in the second mass protest in as many weeks along Gaza's volatile border, as Palestinians torched piles of tires to create a smoke screen to block the view of snipers.

Friday's deaths brought to 29 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire over the past week, including 23 protesters.

Gaza's Health Ministry said 1,070 people were wounded on Friday, including 293 by live fire. It said 25 of those wounded were in serious condition. Among those hurt were 12 women and 48 minors, the ministry added.

Israel's army has faced criticism over its use of live fire, but it has warned open-fire rules will remain unchanged to stop damage to the border fence, infiltrations and attacks.

On Friday, Israel's military said in a statement that “approximately 10,000 Palestinians have been rioting in five locations along the border with the Gaza Strip”.

It added that “several attempts have been made to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of the smokescreen created by the burning tires that the rioters ignited”.

The military also said explosive devices and firebombs were thrown.

“Troops are responding with riot dispersal means, including water cannons to put out fires, a huge fan to disperse the smoke, and fire in accordance with the rules of engagement,” it said.

Protesters set alight mounds of tyres to create a smokescreen for Israeli snipers, sending thick black smoke into the air.

“I will be a martyr today. I will cross the border,” Ahmed Abu Ghali, 20, who held up his shirt to show his still seeping wound from last week that required 40 stitches.

“I was wounded last Friday but escaped yesterday from hospital,” said the protester at the rally east of Khan Yunis.

Israel had warned that its open-fire rules would remain unchanged for Friday's protests, pledging to stop any damage to the fence and prevent infiltrations or alleged attacks.

But it has faced mounting criticism over its use of live fire, and UN chief Antonio Guterres called for restraint.

“I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties.

Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully,” he said in a statement.

'Calculated'

In last Friday's demonstration, a number strayed from the main protest and approached the heavily fortified fence on the border with Israel.

Israel says troops opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling burning tyres at soldiers.

It said there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was also an attempted gun attack against soldiers along the border.

It accuses Hamas, the movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

But the toll of those killed and wounded on March 30 ─ more than 750 people were injured by gunfire, according to Gaza's health ministry ─ has led to criticism of Israel.

There were no Israeli casualties.

Palestinians say protesters were shot while posing no threat to soldiers, and unverified videos that have spread online have fuelled their accusations.

The videos include one appearing to show a man with a tyre shot while running away from the fence. Human Rights Watch has called the actions by the Israeli soldiers “calculated” and illegal.

Guterres and the European Union have called for an independent investigation, which Israel has outright rejected.

US embassy move

Israel says more than half of the dead from the previous Friday were members of militant groups, including the armed wing of Hamas.

Hamas's armed wing has claimed only five of them, saying they were participating “in popular events side-by-side with their people”.

Militant group Islamic Jihad has claimed at least one of the dead as a member, but it said he was not carrying a weapon when he was shot.

Hamas has meanwhile offered compensation of $3,000 to the families of protesters killed and $500 for those seriously injured, drawing outrage from Israel.

The protests, designed to last six weeks, are in support of refugees, including those in the Palestinian enclave who want to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

More than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their lands during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.

Israelis say allowing the so-called “right of return” would mean their country would cease to exist.

Protests will run until the expected opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem in mid-May.

The US move has led to deep anger among Palestinians, who see the annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The White House on Thursday refrained from criticism of Israel and called on protesters to remain peaceful. President Donald Trump's envoy Jason Greenblatt said protesters “should remain outside the 500-metre (-yard) buffer zone; and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location”.

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