Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured and at least 12 killed by Israeli security forces facing down land protests on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to continue until the new US Embassy is opened.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, gathered at five points along the fenced border at the start of six weeks of protests on Friday.
The five sites have been set up from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah, where it meets the Egyptian border in the south.
At least 12 Palestinians were killed on Friday: two of them by Israeli tank fire, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The same source said 400 people were wounded by live Israeli gunfire and others were struck by rubber bullets or treated for the effects of tear gas.
Organizers had called on demonstrators to stay away from the border area but as the day wore on, hundreds of young people moved closer to the frontier, from where the Israeli military kept watch.
The Israeli military said Palestinians rolled burning tires and threw stones at the Israeli forces, who responded with live bullets, tear gas and fired at what they called the “main instigators.”
Witnesses said the Israeli military used a drone to drop tear gas over at least one location. Three sites in particular were targeted with tank fire and an airstrike after the Israelis claimed there had been a shooting attack against their soldiers. No Israeli soldier was injured.
Palestinians, and Turkish authorities, accused Israel of using disproportionate force.
The protest, which has the backing of Hamas, is expected to last more than six weeks, as US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital becomes final when the US Embassy moves to Jerusalem.
On Friday evening, organizers encouraged demonstrators to withdraw from the border area until Saturday.
‘A message to Trump’
“The Great March of Return is a message to Trump,” Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of the Hamas political bureau, told the crowds.
“There is no concession to Jerusalem, no alternative to Palestine, and no solution but to return. This is the Palestinian people taking the initiative and making the event for the sake of Palestine … for the sake of Jerusalem and the right of return,” Haniyeh said.
The protests began as Palestinians marked Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.
Dubbed “The Great March of Return,” organizers said the rallies would continue until May 15 when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” where more than 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes or were expelled during the war that led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
The date is one day after the new US Embassy in Jerusalem is expected to be formally opened.
According to the United Nations, about 1.3 million of Gaza’s 2 million residents are refugees or the descendants of refugees, and the protest is calling for them to be allowed to return to land that has been taken by Israel.
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