Gaza City: Clashes erupted as thousands protested for a third consecutive Friday along Gaza’s border with Israel amid violence in which Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.
The numbers of protesters were smaller than in previous weeks, though still substantial and with Gaza’s health ministry reporting dozens more Palestinians wounded and one killed by Israeli gunfire.
Islam Herzallah, 28, died in hospital after being shot by Israeli troops east of Gaza City, the ministry said.
Clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers took place in multiple spots along the border while tear gas and plumes of black smoke from burning tyres filled the air in some areas.
More than 500 people were wounded, including 122 from gunfire, according to Gaza’s health ministry, with the other injuries including those from tear gas.
Two journalists were wounded by gunfire, the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate said, a week after a Gazan journalist was killed.
Israel’s army estimated the number of people “rioting” at 10,000 and alleged there were attempts to damage and breach the border fence, while it said firebombs and explosive devices were used.
Palestinians also sought to pull away barbed wire set up by Israeli forces to keep them away from the fence, an AFP journalist said.
The military said soldiers responded “with riot dispersal means and are firing in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
It distributed a photo of “a terrorist wielding an item suspected of being an explosive device,” but an AFP journalist who witnessed the event said it was a firework that did not explode.
Dozens of Israeli flags were burned, as were photos of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen by protesters as cooperating with Israel.
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.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday “there are fewer riots on our border,” adding that “our resolve is well-understood on the other side.”
– Calls for independent probe –
In the northern Gaza Strip, Sumaya Abu Awad, 36, attended the protest with her three daughters and son.
“I am not afraid of death because there is no life in Gaza already,” she said.
The protests, planned to last six weeks, are calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes, now inside Israel. Israelis say that amounts to calling for the country’s destruction.
The first two Fridays saw tens of thousands gather at five locations along the border with Israel.
Smaller numbers have approached the fence, throwing stones and rolling burning tyres towards soldiers who took up positions on the other side.
Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist 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 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have called for an independent investigation.
– ‘Excessive and lethal force’ –
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.
The company Murtaja co-founded had been vetted for US government funding, while an international journalists federation said he was harassed and beaten by Hamas police in 2015.
Rights groups have strongly criticised Israeli forces while pointing to unverified videos that have spread online of Gazans appearing to be shot, including one seeming to show a Palestinian targeted as he ran away from the fence while holding a tyre.
“The Israeli authorities must put an immediate end to the excessive and lethal force being used to suppress Palestinian demonstrations in Gaza,” Amnesty International said Friday.
Hamas officials had said in recent days they wanted this week’s protest to see less bloodshed and hoped to keep momentum building for May 14, when the United States is expected to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The embassy move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see the Israel-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Organisers have reiterated their call for peaceful protests.
The official end date of the protests is May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” commemorating the more than 700,000 who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for more than 10 years, while its border with Egypt has also been largely closed in recent years.