GAZA BORDER: Clashes erupted as thousands gathered for a third consecutive Friday of mass protests along Gaza’s border with Israel after violence in which Israeli forces have killed 33 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.
Limited clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers took place in at least two areas along the border, AFP reporters said, with larger protests expected after Friday prayers.
At least eight Palestinians were wounded, the health ministry in Gaza said, with one shot in the head.
Most were injured east of Gaza City, but two were hurt in clashes near Al-Bureij in central Gaza.
Many protesters left for midday prayers but larger numbers are expected to gather in five spots along the border on Friday afternoon.
In northern Gaza, a large Israeli flag was burned that had earlier been set on the ground for protesters to walk over.
The protests since March 30 have posed a challenge to Israel, which has dismissed criticism of its use of live fire, saying its rules of engagement are necessary and will not change.
Organisers were calling on Friday’s demonstrators to burn Israeli flags and raise Palestinian ones.
In the northern Gaza Strip, Sumaya Abu Awad, 36, attended the protest with her three daughters and son.
“I am from the village of Hiribya and it is my right to return to it,” she said, referring to a village north of Gaza destroyed in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
“I am not afraid of death because there is no life in Gaza already.”
Last week, protesters burned mounds of tyres, sending plumes of smoke into the air in the border area. Israeli soldiers used large fans in a bid to push the smoke away.
The protests, planned to last six weeks, are calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes that are now inside Israel — which Israelis say essentially amounts to calling for the country’s destruction.
The first two Fridays — with far less on intervening days — saw tens of thousands gather near the border with Israel at five locations.
Israel accuses Hamas, the movement that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.
It has pledged to stop attacks, damage to the fence and infiltration bids, and says there have been attempts at all three.
But Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have called for an independent investigation.
The dead from last Friday included a journalist, Yasser Murtaja, who witnesses said was wearing a press vest at the time he was shot.
Israel claimed he was a paid member of Hamas, but produced no evidence.