Gaza activists burned tires and threw stones near the sealed border with Israel on Friday in a seventh weekly protest aimed at shaking off a decade-old blockade of their territory. Israeli soldiers fired live bullets and tear gas volleys from the other side of the border fence.
Fifteen protesters were wounded by live fire, four of them seriously, including a 16-year-old boy shot in the head, Gaza health officials said. Two dozen others were overcome by tear gas.
The protest came just three days ahead of what the leader of Gaza’s ruling Hamas group has said will be a march by tens of thousands who could burst through the border fence into Israel. The crowd on Monday will be unarmed and peaceful, but like a “starving tiger” in pent-up anger and unpredictability, Yehiyeh Sinwar told foreign reporters Thursday.
Israel has warned that it will prevent any border breach. It has stuck to its open-fire policies, such as targeting “main instigators” and those approaching the fence, despite growing international criticism. Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking the border. Rights group say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.
Since the Hamas-led marches began in late March, 40 Palestinian protests have been killed and more than 1,700 wounded by Israel army fire. The protests, driven by despair among Gaza’s 2 million people, are part of a campaign to break the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza in 2007.
There are growing concerns that if Israel and Hamas dig in, a widespread border breach in coming days could lead to large numbers of casualties.
Monday’s border march is meant to protest the planned move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem that day.
The embassy’s inauguration comes five months after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that outraged Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel.
The Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem is sought as a future Palestinian capital — at least by those supporting Hamas’ political rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seeks an Islamic state in the entire historic Palestine, including what is now Israel, but has said it is ready for a long-term truce.
Another large-scale protest is planned for Tuesday, when Palestinians mark their “nakba,” or catastrophe, referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out or fled homes in what is now Israel. More than two-thirds of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees.
On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered in five tent camps set up weeks ago, each several hundred meters (yards) from the border. From there, smaller groups moved closer to the border fence.
In an area east of Gaza City, protesters burned tires, releasing large plumes of black smoke, and threw stones. Some flew kites with burning rags attached. One of the kites was downed by a small Israeli drone.
Israeli soldiers fired live rounds and volleys of tear gas.
Witnesses said Israeli forces on the other side of the fence had added reinforcements, including cement slabs, as protective cover.
In recent weeks, soldiers have fired from behind sand berms.
Meanwhile, Gaza government officials announced that Egypt will open its border with Gaza for four days starting Saturday. Helping reinforce the Israeli blockade, Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing point, Gaza’s main gate to the outside world, closed most of the time since the Hamas takeover.
Egypt opens the crossing from time to time, mainly to allow people in special categories, including medical patients and Gaza residents studying abroad, to leave the territory or return to it. The upcoming opening was framed as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins next week.
In Jordan, dozens of Palestinians waving flags and chanting slogans joined “nakba” protests in an area near the Israeli-controlled frontier between the West Bank and the kingdom.
Many of Jordan’s residents are descendants of Palestinian refugees.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Fares Akram