Three Palestinians killed and 365 injured in clashes with Israelis in the Gaza region
Three Palestinian men have died in major clashes with Israeli troops on the border of the Gaza Strip, amid a day of protests called by the militant group Hamas.
Two were shot dead by Israeli gunfire and a third, a Palestinian farmer, was killed by an Israeli tank shell as he worked in a neighbouring field, the Palestinian health ministry said. Israel had bolstered its security at the border ahead of the expected mass sit-ins.
A Gaza official said 365 people had been hurt by tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire. The Israeli military said Palestinians rolled burning tyres and threw stones at Israeli forces who then retaliated with tear gas and fire at "main instigators."
Ahead of the protests, called for by Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, Israel’s military said it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialise in riot control.
Hamas had said the activities would be peaceful and the chief Israeli military spokesman, brigadier general Ronen Manelis, said Israel wanted to avoid violence.
The Israeli military said troops directed tank fire toward two suspects who approached the fence along the southern Gaza Strip and acted suspiciously. It said it is aware of reports of a killed Palestinian.
The sit-ins are seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break a crippling, decade old Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt that has made it increasingly difficult for the Islamic militant group to govern.
Other tactics over the years, including cross-border wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with political rival Mahmoud Abbas, the West Bank-based Palestinian president, have failed to end Gaza’s isolation.
In the planned protest, Palestinians are setting up tent camps along the border, the first of a series of actions planned in Gaza in the coming weeks.
The activities are to culminate on 15 May, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with a march through the border fence.
Palestinians commemorate the date as the anniversary of their mass displacement and uprooting during the 1948 war in the Middle East over Israel’s creation. The vast majority of Gaza residents are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from communities in what is now Israel.
Eighty-year-old Mansi Nassar walked towards the border with the aid of his cane ignoring calls to remain 700 metres (2,300 feet) from the barrier.
"I was born in Beit Darras inside Palestine and I will accept no less than returning to it," he said, referring to his former home village just south of the modern Israeli city of Ashdod. The village no longer exists.
The farmer killed on Friday was identified as 27-year-old Amr Samour. The Palestinian health ministry said he was killed in the south-eastern corner of Gaza.
Yasser Samour, a relative and fellow farmer, said Mr Samour was harvesting parsley before dawn, in hopes of selling it fresh in the market later in the day.
“I was working on the next field,” Mr Samour said. “We heard shelling landing on the field where Amr works. We ran there and found him hit directly with a shell. We were more than a kilometre away from the border.”
Another farmer was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, Mr Samour said.
Independent News Service