Dozens of Palestinians are clashing with Israeli troops on the Gaza border in protests.Three Palestinian protesters have been shot dead and some 170 injured by Israeli gunfire on the Gaza border as thousands gathered to protest for the right of Palestinian refugees and descendants to return to their homeland.
A Palestinian man was shot in the abdomen and killed east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, and two other young men were shot in the head and killed east of the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra.
The confrontations broke out on Friday morning when Israeli soldiers stationed at the border fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Palestinians from approaching the border fence.
Palestinian protesters threw stones and clashed with Israeli security forces during Friday’s “Great March of Return” after a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli tank fire overnight. The Israeli military said tanks had responded to two suspects who had approached the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.
The march had been called by the Islamist Hamas group to highlight the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were expelled or fled their homes during the 1948 war that marked Israel’s creation.
Photos early on Friday showed numerous tents in the border area and people waving Palestinian flags. Protesters burned images of US President Donald Trump, whose controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there on May 14 – Israel’s 70th independence day – sparked Palestinian outrage.
The Israeli army said 17,000 protesters had gathered at five locations along the Gaza Strip. Palestinians were rolling burning tyres in the direction of the Israeli soldiers and throwing stones, a statement read. Soldiers responded with “riot dispersal means” and fired at main instigators.
“The Hamas terror organisation is responsible for the violent riots and everything taking places under its auspices,” the army said.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that the mass protests were a challenge to the peace initiative of Trump.
“The Great March of Return is a message to Trump,” Haniyeh said in a speech to tens of thousands of march participants east of Gaza.
“There is no concession to Jerusalem, no alternative to Palestine, and no solution but to return,” Haniyeh said.
Protests are set to continue until May 15, the day after Israel declared independence. The day is marked by Palestinians as Nakba Day, Arabic for ‘catastrophe.’
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned protesters against approaching the border fence.
“Anyone approaching the fence risks their lives,” Lieberman wrote in Arabic on Twitter. According to a report by the Israeli news site Ynet, the army had placed more than 100 snipers near the border before the protests.