Palestinians bury 7 killed in latest Gaza flare-up
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Thousands of Gazans on Saturday thronged the funerals of seven people killed by Israeli troops during mass protests the previous day, chanting anti-Israel and antiUS slogans.
The coastal strip’s ruling Hamas group, meanwhile, dispatched a delegation to Egypt in a new attempt to ease a crippling blockade on the Palestinian territory.
Friday’s violence was the deadliest day of protests in four months. Among the dead was an 11-year-old boy, believed to be the youngest of 144 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire during the protests. Another boy, 14, was also among the dead.
The protests were launched last March calling for an end to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group took control of Gaza in 2007. The blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy, and with Egyptian-mediated cease-fire efforts deadlocked, Hamas has vowed to step up the protests.
Israel accused Hamas of exploiting and endangering civilians by using the protests as cover for militant actions.
Responding to calls by Hamas, thousands of Gazans participated in Friday’s protests, burning tires and using the billowing thick smoke as a screen to hurl rocks and firebombs toward Israeli forces on the other side of the fence.
At one location in east Gaza City, where four of the seven were killed, hundreds of protesters breached the fence.
The Israeli army said the protesters damaged security infrastructure and threw more than 100 explosives. No soldiers were hurt. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported 90 people were wounded by live fire, and seven killed.
About 1,000 mourners attended the funeral of the 11-year-old, whose body was wrapped in a white shroud and carried on an orange stretcher.
Israel said it is defending its border and in a statement accused Hamas of exploiting and endangering children by sending them to the fence “as a cover for terror activity”.
But Israel has come under heavy international criticism for what many say is excessive use of force and the high death toll among unarmed protesters.
The top UN humanitarian official in the region, Jamie McGoldrick, said on Saturday that he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life, urging both sides to ensure children are not the target of violence or put at risk.
The 11-year blockade has made conditions increasingly dire in Gaza. Unemployment has risen to more than 50 percent, residents receive just several hours of electricity each day.