Five Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops during Land Day protests in Gaza.Palestinian authorities haveannounced a day of national mourning in the wake of 16 Gazans being killed by Israeli forces during protests commemorating Palestine’s so-called Land Day and called for a strike.
Friday’s Land Day marches, which embodied the demand of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their homeland, saw 16 Palestinians killed when Israeli troops opened live fire on the protesters, of which some 1400 were injured, including 20 in critical condition.
Schools, universities, public institutions and private businesses closed their doors in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on Saturday, a working day for most Palestinians, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had called for a national day of mourning.
The funerals and burials of the 16 deceased, most of whom were young people in their twenties, are set to be held later on Saturday in the Gaza Strip.
More than half of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants are refugees or their descendants, according to the United Nations.
Other Palestinian factions have joined the Islamist movement Hamas in promoting the “Great Return March,” which plans to maintain a presence of hundreds of protesters along the border between Gaza and Israel until May 15, when Palestinians commemorate what they call the Nakba (“Catastrophe”), referring to the exile and dispossession of Arabs that accompanied the founding of Israel in 1948.
According to Palestinian sources, some 40,000 people participated in the protests on Friday, while the Israeli army estimated that they were 30,000.
During a speech on Friday in Ramallah, Abbas called for international protection for the Palestinian people.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said he was deeply concerned about the unrest in Gaza and called for an independent and transparent investigation into Friday’s events.
The UN expressed fears that the situation in Gaza could deteriorate in the coming days.
During an emergency Security Council meeting convened on Kuwait’s initiative, the UN urged Israel to use lethal force against protesters only as a last resort.
On Friday, the Israeli Defence Forces said in a statement that 17,000 Palestinians were “rioting” in five locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.
“The rioters are rolling burning tyres and hurling firebombs and rocks at the security fence and IDF troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators,” the statement added.
Young Gazans hurled stones at soldiers, who fired tear gas in order to disperse the thousands of men, women and children gathered in the area, witnesses told EFE.
Israel announced earlier this week that 100 snipers would be posted along the Gaza border.
The Land Day tradition commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli soldiers fatally shot six Palestinians who were protesting the Israeli government’s expropriation of large swathes of Palestinian-owned land.