Two Palestinians have been killed and 12 wounded by Israeli gunfire along the border between Israel and Gaza. The deaths occurred as protests and clashes along the border enter their fourth week.
Gaza’s health ministry said that more than 30 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli forces since the demonstrations began on 30 March.
Thousands of Gazans have gathered at various locations along the border, calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their former lands in what is now Israel. Most of the demonstrators assembled in five tent camps located several hundred yards from the border fence. Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, torching tires and burning large Israeli flags.
Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and live rounds. The military said that demonstrators hurled an explosive device and several firebombs near the fence in what it said was an apparent attempt to damage it.
Israel has said it is doing what it must to defend its border and has pledged to stop damage to the frontier, infiltrations and attacks. Rights groups have branded the Israeli military’s open-fire regulations as unlawful, saying they permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters. Israel has accused Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers of using the protests as a cover for attacks and says snipers only target the main “instigators.”
The marches have been organized by Hamas, but large turnouts on two preceding Fridays were also driven by desperation among the territory’s 2 million residents. Gaza has endured a border blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas overran the territory in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliament elections. The blockade has driven Gaza deeper into poverty, with unemployment approaching 50 percent and electricity available for less than five hours a day. The marchers are protesting against the blockade, but are also asserting what they say is a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
The demonstrations are expected to culminate on 15 May.