Gaza-Israel border clashes erupt as protests begin

Palestinians burn tyres during a protest east of Gaza City (6 April 2018)Image copyright

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Palestinian protesters said they would set fire to tyres to create smokescreens

Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces have erupted along Gaza’s border with Israel, a week after similar unrest left 16 people dead.

The Israeli military said it had shot three people in the legs, as protesters burned car tyres and threw stones.

The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel.

But Israel says the militant group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, is staging the rallies in order to launch attacks.

It has warned that orders given to soldiers about when to open fire have not been changed, despite a storm of international criticism.

Hamas and other groups organising the six-week protest campaign, dubbed the Great March of Return, say they are peacefully calling for the right for Palestinian refugees to return to land they fled from or were forced to leave in 1948, when Israel was created.

The Israeli government rejects such claims and says terrorists are using the cover of the protests to try to cross illegally into its territory.

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Israeli forces fired tear gas at protesters near the kibbutz of Nahal Oz as the protest began

Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned that anyone getting close to the border fence in Gaza was endangering their life.

“If there are provocations, there will be a reaction of the harshest kind like last week,” he said.

The Israeli military has said its troops have only used live fire against people trying to sabotage the border fence, rolling burning tyres towards it, or throwing stones.

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Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest. Source: Haaretz

But the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has said live fire should only be used when troops face “tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative”.

It has called on soldiers to refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators, saying orders to do so are “blatantly unlawful”.

Palestinian health ministry officials said on Friday morning that a man shot during last week’s protests had died of his wounds.

Another man was killed in an Israeli air strike near the border on Thursday. The Israeli military said the man had approached the fence carrying a rifle.

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Media captionDeadly clashes took place along the border last Friday

The Israeli foreign ministry said Hamas – which is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and EU – was leading the protests and that most of those killed had been militants.

Hamas acknowledged that some of those killed belonged to its military wing, but said they were participating in the protest “side by side” with other Palestinians.

The group has said it will pay $3,000 (£2,140) to the family of anyone shot dead by Israeli troops at the protests. It has also offered $500 to anyone who suffers a critical injury and $200 for a minor injury.

A Hamas official on the organising committee of the protests rejected Israeli claims that it was putting a “price tag” on casualties.

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A rights group says troops should only fire when facing “tangible and immediate mortal danger”

“This is our duty to our people, to ease the suffering of our citizens,” Muhammad Thuraya told the New York Times. “This does not mean that we are promoting people for death.”

The United Nations and European Union have called for an independent investigation into last week’s deaths and appealed for calm on Friday.

“Israeli forces should exercise maximum restraint and Palestinians should avoid friction at the Gaza fence,” UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said.

“Demonstrations and protests must be allowed to proceed in a peaceful manner,” he added.

But US presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt said it was the responsibility of Palestinian leaders to “communicate loudly and clearly that protesters should march peacefully”, remain outside the 500m (1,640ft) “buffer zone” designated by Israel, and “not approach the border fence in any way or any location”.

“We condemn leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed,” he said.

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