Israeli troops have shot dead seven Palestinian protesters and wounded at least 200 along the Israel-Gaza border, Palestinian medical officials say, raising the death toll to 27 in the week-long disturbances.
- 27 Palestinians were killed over the past week and at least 200 wounded Friday by Israeli gunfire
- Israel has come under international criticism for its use of force
- Israel said it acted in self defence and that many killed were militants
They said the demonstrators, including two teenage boys aged 16 and 17, were killed at protest sites along the frontier during a round of daily demonstrations that began on March 30 and are known as “The Great March of Return”.
The day of violence, which saw bigger Palestinian crowds than in recent days but not as large as when the demonstration began last Friday, calmed down as night descended.
The protesters, including Palestinian refugees and their descendants seeking to regain homes in what is now Israel that were lost during its 1948-49 independence war, have set up tent encampments a few hundred metres inside Gaza.
Large groups of youths ventured much closer to the no-go zone along the border, risking live fire from Israeli troops to roll burning tyres at the barrier and throw stones.
“Israel took everything from us, the homeland, freedom, our future,” said Samer, a 27-year-old protester who would not give his full name, fearing Israeli reprisals.
“I have two kids, a boy and a girl, and if I die, God will take care of them.”
Refugees comprise most of the two million population of Israeli-blockaded Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant movement Hamas.
Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops. (AP: Khalil Hamra)
With black tyre smoke and Israeli tear gas rising into the air, Palestinian youths used T-shirts, cheap medical masks and perfume to try and protect themselves.
Israel also tried to douse burning tyres with fire hoses from its side of the border.
The Israeli military has stationed sharpshooters on its side of the frontier to deter Palestinians from trying to break through the fence into Israeli territory.
Israel said many of those killed were militants.
‘Demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life’
David Keyes, an Israeli Government spokesman, accused Hamas of having instigated violent protests along the border.
“This is a travesty for the Palestinian people that the Hamas Government is encouraging its people to attack Israel, it is encouraging its people to commit acts of violence,” he said.
Hamas’ Gaza leader, Yehya Al-Sinwar, spoke at a protest encampment to praise those who turned out to confront the “enemy who besieges us”.
He said the demonstrations would continue, telling the crowds: “We will uproot the borders, we will pluck out their hearts, and we will pray in Jerusalem.”
Earlier in the day, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem urged protesters to keep the rallies peaceful.
“Maintaining the peaceful nature of the protests will strike all fragile Zionist propaganda,” Mr Qassem said in a statement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds little sway in Gaza, condemned what he described as Israel’s “acts of killing and oppression conducted … against the peaceful uprising”.
Seventeen of the now 27 Palestinian dead were killed by Israeli gunfire on the first day of protests a week ago, medics said.
The deaths drew international criticism of Israel’s response, which human rights groups said involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.
The United Nations human rights office urged Israel to exercise restraint.
“We are saying that Israel has obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed,” UN human rights spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said in Geneva.
“And that if there is unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms, resulting in death, that may amount to a wilful killing … and that’s a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Israel has said it was doing what it must to defend its border and that its troops had been responding with riot dispersal means and fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement”.
“[The army] will not allow any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians,” an Israeli military spokesman said on Friday.
Palestinian protesters have been demanding the right to return to their homeland. (Reuters: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
The United States has criticised protest organisers.
“We condemn leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters — including children — to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed,” said President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt.
The protest action is set to wind up on May 15, when Palestinians mark the “Naqba”, or “Catastrophe” — when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes during violence that culminated in war in May 1948 between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbours.