JERUSALEM - Atleast seven Palestinians were killed and 500 wounded Friday in the ongoing violent clashes between hundreds of Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers during a popular march close to the border between Gaza Strip and Israel , medics said.
Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza health ministry spokesman told reporters that early on Friday, Israeli soldiers targeted two farmers close to the border with the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, killing a 27-year-old farmer and wounding another.
Later on Friday, six other Palestinian demonstrators were shot dead and around 500 injured by Israeli troops’ gunfire near the border between eastern Gaza Strip and Israel during heavy violent confrontations, according to al-Qedra.
The confrontations broke out Friday morning when Israeli soldiers stationed at the border fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Palestinians from approaching the fence. Young demonstrators threw stones at the soldiers, according to witnesses.
Al-Qedra said that six Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops’ gunfire during the clashes in eastern Gaza.
The eyewitnesses said the Israeli army sent more forces, including armored vehicles, snipers, sniffing dogs and soldiers equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to prevent Palestinians from reaching the fence of the borders.
Thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, arrived by buses at six different areas in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, close to the border with Israel to join the “Great March of Return.”
The march, which began Friday on the occasion of the Land Day, is scheduled to end on May 15, which coincides with 70 years of the Palestinian Day of “the Nakba,” or the catastrophe, when the state of Israel was born in 1948.
Palestinian stone-throwers clashed on Friday with Israeli troops in several locations along the Israel-Gaza border fence, as mass sit-ins touted by Gaza’s Hamas rulers as peaceful protests quickly spun out of control.
Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinians participated in clashes, while thousands more gathered in tent encampments set up in five sites several at a distance of several hundred meters from the border.
The Israeli military said thousands of Palestinians rolled burning tires and threw stones at forces stationed on the border. It said troops opened fire at the “main instigators.”
The military said it views with “great severity any breach of Israeli sovereignty or damage to the security fence.”
Several hours before the confrontations, a Palestinian farmer was killed by an Israeli tank shell in the southern Gaza Strip, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
Israel’s military said ahead of the protests that it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialise in riot control. The military said it would not allow the crowds to breach the fence or damage military infrastructure.
Previous protests near the border fence in recent months have turned deadly, with Israeli soldiers firing live bullets at Palestinians burning tires, throwing stones or hurling firebombs.
On Friday, mosques across Gaza called on Palestinians to join the protests. Buses took protesters to the border area, including five tent encampments set up from north to south, several hundred meters from the border fence. By noon, thousands had arrived at the encampments.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout.
“The large crowds … reflect the Palestinian people’s determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ supreme leader along with Gaza leader Yehiyeh Sinwar visited the tents.
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 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.
Friday’s actions are to be the first in a series of protests planned in Gaza in the coming weeks. The activities are to culminate on May 15, 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 Mideast war 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 .
The Palestinian killed on Friday was identified as 27-year-old Amr Samour. Israel said troops had directed tank fire at suspicious figures near the border fence in the area.
Yasser Samour, a relative and fellow farmer, said Amr 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,” Yasser 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, Samour said. - APP /AFP