GAZA CITY: Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in heavy rain at the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a new wave of protests, facing off against Israeli tanks and troops massed on the fortified frontier.
The ‘Great March of Return’ protests have been marked by sometimes deadly violence and Gaza medical officials said two Palestinians had been killed on Saturday.
One man died near the border before dawn, hours before the main afternoon rally, they said, while a 17-year-old boy was killed by Israeli fire at a protest site east of Gaza City.
Palestinian protesters threw rocks, grenades and burning tyres toward soldiers across the border fence, the Israeli military said.
The protesters are calling for the lifting of a security blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
Israel rejects any such return, saying this would eliminate its Jewish majority.
The Israeli military said 40,000 people had gathered in the frontier area but that most of them were keeping away from the border.
Despite the bad weather, an Israeli security official said the turnout was larger than for the usual weekly protests and that it also appeared organisers were trying to keep violence from erupting.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 17 people had been wounded by Israeli gunfire and scores more by tear gas and shrapnel.
Around 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests began on March 30 last year, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures, and an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
Confrontations mounted ahead of the anniversary. A Gaza rocket attack wounded seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv on Monday and, in response, Israel launched a wave of air strikes and ramped up its forces at the border.
After 12 months of bloodshed, Egyptian mediators are working to avoid further confrontation, and to ease tensions by persuading Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of the Gaza Strip.
The blockade is cited by humanitarian agencies as a key reason for impoverishment in the narrow coastal enclave into which two million Palestinians are packed.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2019