Six killed and hundreds injured by Israeli gunfire in new Gaza border protest
Palestinians have torched piles of tyres near Gaza’s border with Israel, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and drawing Israeli fire that killed six men in a second mass protest in a week.
Friday’s deaths brought to 28 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire over the past week, including 22 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.
Friday’s march was the second in what Gaza’s Hamas rulers said would be several weeks of protests against a decade-old border blockade of the territory.
Israel has accused the Islamic militant group of using the protests as a cover for attacking Israel’s border, and has warned that those approaching the fence put their lives at risk.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians streamed to five tent encampments set up at various points several hundred metres from the border fence.
In one camp near the border community of Khuzaa, smaller groups of activists moved closer to the fence after Muslim noon prayers. They torched large piles of tyres, engulfing the area in black smoke meant to shield them from Israeli snipers. The faces of some of the activists were covered in black soot.
Israeli troops on the other side of the fence responded with live fire, tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and water cannons trained at the fence.
The Israeli military said protesters hurled several explosive devices and firebombs in an attempt to damage the fence under cover of smoke.
It said attempts to cross the fence were thwarted, and troops brought in a huge fan to disperse the smoke.
After the first tyres started burning, several young men with gunshot wounds began arriving at a field clinic at the camp.
Mohammed Ashour, 20, who had been among the first to set tyres on fire, had been shot in the right arm. He rested on a stretcher placed on the ground.
“We came here because we want dignity,” he said before paramedics carried him to an ambulance to be transported to the strip’s main hospital.
Later on Friday, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, visited the Khuzaa camp, receiving a hero’s welcome. He was surrounded by hundreds of supporters who chanted: “We are going to Jerusalem, millions of martyrs.”
Mr Sinwar told the crowd the world should “wait for our great move, when we breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa”, referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
It appeared to be the first time a Hamas leader had specifically threatened to break through the border — something Israel has said it would not allow at any price.
Hamas had billed the final protest, set for May 15, as the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, implying they would try to enter Israel, but they had stopped short of specifically threatening a mass breach of the fence.
An Israeli military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, portrayed the protests as riots, and said Hamas organisers were trying to use them as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel”.
Israel has drawn sharp criticism for its open-fire orders along the border.
#Gaza: UN experts condemn killings by Israeli security forces of Palestinian protesters & urge independent/impartial investigation. Law enforcement officials shld refrain from using lethal force unless unavoidable in order to protect own or others’ lives. https://t.co/vxRES0rCPA pic.twitter.com/4r2Is7cu1f— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 6, 2018
The UN human rights office said on Friday that it had indications that Israeli forces used “excessive force” against protesters last week.
Rights groups have branded orders permitting the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters as unlawful. A leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers this week to refuse “grossly illegal” open-fire orders.
Lt Col Conricus said snipers are used “sparingly” and only against those that pose a “significant threat”.