At least seven Palestinians killed in fresh protests on Gaza border
Renewed violence comes despite UN urging Israel to exercise ‘extreme caution’
At least seven Palestinians were killed and more than 250 wounded in clashes with Israeli troops on Friday as Palestinians resumed protests along the Gaza border with Israel.
On a day dubbed the “Friday of the Tyres”, Palestinian protesters set fire to thousands of tyres at five points of conflagration along the Gaza Strip border, sending thick black clouds of smoke into the air in an effort to obscure the view of Israeli snipers. Other Palestinians used mirrors in an effort to blind the Israeli sharpshooters.
Despite last Friday’s high casualty count – 16 demonstrators were killed last weekend – the Israeli authorities vowed that the military rules of engagement would remain unchanged and Israeli leaders even threatened to strike militant targets deeper within the Gaza Strip if the protests continued.
Ready to ‘explode’
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, addressing the protesters, warned that the Strip was ready to “explode in the face of the occupation”.
He said the world should “wait for our great move, when we breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa”, referring to the major Muslim mosque in Jerusalem.
Hamas’s interior ministry in Gaza published instructions ahead of the protests in which it asked protesters to refrain from contact with Israeli soldiers, to cover their faces as best they could and to avoid using cellular phones.
Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus said Hamas organisers were trying to use protesters as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel”.
The Israeli military says its troops deployed crowd control measures, such as tear gas and water cannons to put out fires, and giant fans to disperse the smoke. According to the military, the soldiers only used live fire against people trying to sabotage the border fence, rolling burning tyres towards it or throwing stones.
About 20,000 Palestinians participated in Friday’s demonstrations, compared with 30,000 who came to the fence a week ago.
The planned protests, which started on March 30th, will continue until the Nakba, or catastrophe, anniversary on May 15th, which marks 70 years since the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
Makeshift tents have been erected 700 metres from the border, symbolising the right of return for Palestinian refugees, who make up 70 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population of two million.
Ahead of Friday’s protests, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres urged Israel to exercise “extreme caution”, and to allow Palestinians to protest peacefully along the border.
US president Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt appeared to put the blame on the Palestinians, saying protesters “should remain outside the 500-metre buffer zone and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location.”
A leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers to refuse “grossly illegal” orders to fire at unarmed protesters.