Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians on the Gaza-Israel border, upping to 35 the death toll in recent weeks among Palestinian protesters demanding the right to return to their former homeland, Plestine.
Gazans used catapults and sling-shots to launch stones at Israeli forces, and some Palestinians brought wire-cutters to cut through the border fence, ignoring leaflets dropped by the Israeli military warning residents not to approach the frontier.
The deaths included a 15-year-old boy shot dead in northern Gaza, Palestinian health officials said, adding that 156 people were wounded by Israeli gunfire.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter: “It is outrageous to shoot at children! How does the killing of a child in Gaza today help peace? It doesn’t! It fuels anger and breeds more killing. Children must be protected from violence, not exposed to it.”
In response, a retired former Israeli army spokesman, Peter Lerner, tweeted suggestions to Mladenov, including: “Please go to Gaza, engage Hamas and get them to stop sending people to the fence.”
The planned six-week protest campaign reached its half-way point on Friday, which saw smaller crowds than in recent weeks. As the numbers peaked during the afternoon Israeli soldiers called out warnings in Arabic over loudspeakers to anyone who approached the border fence. Black plumes of smoke from piles of burning tyres billowed over the area, and stretcher-bearers rushed to carry the wounded to first aid posts.
The protest began on March 30, and has seen tent encampments spring up near the Israeli-imposed restricted zone along the 40km border fence. The protesters have revived demands for Palestinian refugees to regain their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.
The protests are scheduled to culminate on May 15, when, according to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, the Gaza scenes would be replicated elsewhere on Israel’s frontiers.
“I say to our people everywhere, be prepared for a human deluge on all of the borders of Palestine, inside the occupied land and outside the occupied land,” he said on a visit to one of the border camps. “I say to the (Israeli occupiers) your time is gone.”
Israel’s use of live fire has drawn international criticism but the Israeli government says it is protecting its borders and takes such action when protesters come too close to the border fence.
The Israeli military said that around 3,000 Palestinians were involved in the latest protest, and that its troops responded “with riot dispersal means and are firing in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist militant group which rules Gaza, of staging riots and trying to carry out attacks.—Agencies