GAZA BORDER: Israeli troops fired live rounds and tear gas at Palestinians thronging the Gaza-Israel border on Friday as part of a long-running protest, injuring about 350 people. Medics said around 50 people were shot and wounded with live fire, three of them critically, and 300 more treated for gas inhalation and other injuries along the Gaza side of the 40-km border fence, where Palestinians set up tent encampments on March 30 for what they call “The Great March of Return”.
Youths rolled burning tyres to within 500 metres of the fence, using the smoke as a screen to counter Israeli sharpshooters on the other side. At least 43 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army gunfire in the last month.
Protesters said they used slingshots to down a small Israeli observation drone overhead.
An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
As Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, Palestinians mourn what they call the “Nakba” (Catastrophe) of their people’s mass-dispossession during the conflict that broke out in 1948.
Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians are war refugees or their descendants. The Gaza protests have seen thousands gather — in greater numbers on Fridays — to demand access to their families’ lost homes or lands, now in Israel.
Israel rules that out, concerned it would lose its Jewish majority. Alternatives, such as accommodating refugees and their descendants in a future Palestinian state, have been discussed in peace talks that date back to 1993 but which are now stalled.
“If it wasn’t for the occupation we would have lived as free as people like in other countries,” said Ahmed, 24, at a protest site east of Gaza City. “If they don’t allow us back, at least they should give us a state.”
The Palestinians and human rights groups, including the United Nations body, have criticised Israel for using live fire against the protesters.
Israel says it is protecting its borders and takes such action only when protesters, some hurling stones and Molotov cocktails trying to lay explosives, come too close to the fence.
Israel says the protests have been organised by Hamas — the group that controls Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction — to provide cover for attacks, and that most of the dead were fighters. Palestinians deny those allegations.
The protests take place at a time of growing frustration as prospects for an independent Palestinian state look poor. While the peace talks are stuck, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have expanded.
An added focus this year is President Donald Trump’s decision to begin moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
Trump’s moves angered Palestinian leaders, who have refused to talk to his administration, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Israel’s government celebrated the US decision, saying it recognised the “reality” that Jerusalem was the historic capital of the Jewish people.
Visiting the Middle East earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lent his support to Israel’s handling of the border protests.