Monday 20 January 2020

Deadly clashes erupt again in Gaza at Israeli border fence

Three Palestinians were killed and dozens were reported wounded.

Palestinian protesters
Palestinian protesters

By Fares Akram

Hundreds of Palestinians have converged on the Gaza Strip’s border fence with Israel, trying to rip through it before drawing heavy Israeli fire in one of the most violent incidents yet in five weeks of protests.

Three Palestinians were killed and hundreds were reported wounded.

At least 38 protesters have been killed by Israeli live fire and more than 2,100 wounded in the weekly protests since they began on March 30.

Israel has rejected the international criticism, saying it is defending its sovereign border and accusing Gaza’s Hamas leaders, who are organising the protests, of using the crowds as cover to carry out attacks.

Palestinian protesters run for cover

In Friday’s unrest, a large crowd gathered a few hundred metres from the border, with some throwing stones and setting tyres on fire in what has become a weekly occurrence.

Late in the afternoon, dozens of young men broke away from the larger protest, moving south about 200 metres and approaching the fence.

The crowd then tried to break through the fence with hooks and wire cutters when Israeli forces opened fire. Witnesses said three protesters briefly crossed into Israel and turned around.

Hundreds more ran to the scene, and the numbers quickly grew to several thousand. Israeli armoured vehicles sped to the site and fired barrages of tear gas. As gunfire erupted, the crowd dispersed.

A dozen Palestinian ambulances jammed a dirt road lining up to take away the wounded.

Palestinians medics carry a wounded man

Palestinian health officials reported three people killed and 611 wounded, including 138 hit by live fire in incidents along the border throughout the day.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it had “thwarted” an attempted infiltration by Palestinian protesters.

It said “hundreds of rioters” tried to burn the fence and enter Israel. It said the crowd threw explosives, firebombs and rocks, and that troops opened fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and halted the crowd.

It released a video showing a young Palestinian man placing a burning tyre along the fence in an apparent attempt to set it on fire. In another, a small group lobs stones at an Israeli military vehicle on the other side of the fence.

In other incidents, the military said Palestinian crowds rolled burning tyres, hurled rocks and flew kites with flaming objects attached with the goal of damaging the fence and other Israeli targets.

It also released a photo appearing to show a group of youths tugging at barbed wire along the fence.

The marches, aimed in part at trying to break a decade-old border blockade, have been organised by Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers but have also been driven by widespread despair in the coastal territory of two million people.

Gaza organisers say the marches are also pressing for the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

Two-thirds of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees who fled or were expelled from properties during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

The protests are to culminate on May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s creation. Hamas organisers have made conflicting statements about whether they plan a mass border breach at some point.

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for allegedly using excessive force.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said Israeli troops have not heeded warnings by the UN and others, repeatedly using lethal force against unarmed protesters in the past month.

Gaza health officials say that four minors, including a 14-year-old boy, have been among the dead.

“The loss of life is deplorable, and the staggering number of injuries caused by live ammunition only confirms the sense that excessive force has been used against demonstrators — not once, not twice, but repeatedly,” the commissioner said.

Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said Israel is “diligently defending its sovereignty” and accused Mr Zeid of encouraging Hamas’s “exploitation of civilians”.

PA Media

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