Israeli troops have opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing at least seven and injuring hundreds. Thousands of Palestinians are protesting along the Israel-Gaza border.
Israeli troops killed at least seven protesters on Friday along the Gaza border fence, where Palestinians braved the threat of live Israeli sniper fire to demonstrate against a border blockade and the right to return to lands taken by Israel 70 years ago.
At least 1,070 Palestinians were injured on Friday, including nearly 300 by live fire, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. Among those wounded were 12 women and 48 minors.
the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said six journalist were shot and wounded despite wearing clothes identifying themselves as media.
The mass protest comes a week after at least 20 people were killed by Israeli troops last Friday.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered at the Israel-Gaza frontier, igniting mounds of tires that spewed out black smoke to obscure the vision of Israeli snipers.
Israeli troops fired tear gas, live ammunition, rubber coated steel pellets and water cannons at Palestinians throwing stones and molotov cocktails. The Israeli military deployed fire hoses to spray thick liquid at the burning tire piles on the other side of the border fence.
Read more: EU calls for probe into Gaza protest
The Israeli military said it was responding with “riot dispersal means and fire in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
The defense ministry had ordered soldiers to target protesters nearing the border fence amid condemnation from human rights organization and the UN that Israel is using excessive force.
Israel claims the protesters are “rioters” and “instigators” directed by Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. It said protesters attempted to carry out “terrorist attacks.”
Dubbed “The Great March of Return,” the Palestinian protests started on March 30 and are planned until May 15, Israeli’s independence day. Palestinians refer to May 15 as the Nakba, or “Day of the Catastrophe,” marking the displacement 700,000 Arabs from their homes when Israel was founded in 1948.
‘Indications of excessive force’
The Israeli military estimated 20,000 protesters took part on Friday, fewer than the 40,000 who demonstrated last Friday.
The United Nations on Friday said there were “strong indications that security forces used excessive force” against protesters the previous week.
“Firearms may be used only in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury,” said UN spokeswoman Liz Throstle.
“The use of protective gear and defensive positions by law enforcement officials would have mitigated the risk and should not have led to recourse to lethal force. An attempt to approach or cross the green-line fence by itself certainly does not amount to a threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of live ammunition,” the UN said.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has rejected an independent investigation into allegations of excessive use of force. He has said Israel will not change its rules of engagement.
“If there are provocations, there will be a reaction of the harshest kind like last week,” Lieberman told public radio.
US urges restraint
The United States, which last week blocked a draft United Nations Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation into the deaths, has backed its ally and blamed Hamas for the violence.
Two million Palestinians, mostly descendants of refugees, are cramped into the 360-square-kilometer (139 square miles) Gaza Strip.
Years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades and wars have contributed to a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Unemployment stands at 50 percent, electricity runs for only a few hours a day and untreated sewage pollutes the coastline.
Israel blames Hamas for the humanitarian crisis.
cw,rc,es/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)