Burn­ing anger

Sunday News - - WORLD -

GAZA STRIP Thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans protested along Gaza’s sealed bor­der with Is­rael yes­ter­day, en­gulf­ing the volatile area in black smoke from burn­ing tyres to try to block the view of Is­raeli snipers, and cheer­ing a Ha­mas strong­man who pledged that the bor­der fence will even­tu­ally fall.

Is­raeli troops opened fire from across the bor­der, killing at least nine Pales­tini­ans and wound­ing 491 oth­ers – 33 of them se­ri­ously – in the se­cond mass bor­der protest in a week, Gaza health of­fi­cials said. A well-known Pales­tinian jour­nal­ist was among the dead, and hun­dreds of oth­ers suf­fered other in­juries, in­clud­ing tear gas in­hala­tion, the of­fi­cials said.

The deaths brought to at least 31 the num­ber of Pales­tini­ans killed by Is­raeli fire since last week.

Health of­fi­cials con­firmed that jour­nal­ist Yasser Murtaga had died from a gun­shot wound suf­fered while cov­er­ing the demon­stra­tions near the Is­raeli bor­der in Khuzaa. The area was the scene of large protests, and was cov­ered in thick black smoke.

Murtaga was over 100m from the bor­der, wear­ing a flak jacket marked ‘‘Press’’ and hold­ing his cam­era, when he was shot in an ex­posed area just be­low the armpit.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary has said it fired only at ‘‘in­sti­ga­tors’’ in­volved in at­tacks on sol­diers or the bor­der fence. It had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

Murtaga worked for Ain me­dia, a TV pro­duc­tion com­pany that has done projects, in­clud­ing aerial drone video, for for­eign me­dia.

Rights groups have branded Is­rael’s open-fire or­ders on the bor­der as un­law­ful, after Is­rael’s de­fence min­is­ter warned that those ap­proach­ing the fence were risk­ing their lives.

The United Na­tions hu­man rights of­fice said yes­ter­day it had in­di­ca­tions that Is­raeli forces used ‘‘ex­ces­sive force’’ against pro­test­ers last week, when 15 Pales­tini­ans were killed or later died of wounds suf­fered near the bor­der.

An Is­raeli mil­i­tary spokesman de­fended the rules of en­gage­ment. ‘‘If they are ac­tively at­tack­ing the fence, if they are throw­ing a molo­tov cock­tail that is within strik­ing dis­tance of Is­raeli troops or sim­i­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, then those per­sons, those ri­ot­ers, be­come, may be­come, a tar­get,’’ said Lieu­tenant Colonel Jonathan Con­ri­cus.

Yes­ter­day’s large crowds sug­gested that Ha­mas, the Is­lamist mil­i­tant group that has ruled Gaza since a 2007 takeover, might be able to keep the mo­men­tum go­ing in the next few weeks.

Ha­mas has called for a se­ries of protests un­til May 15, the an­niver­sary of Is­rael’s found­ing, when Pales­tini­ans com­mem­o­rate their mass up­root­ing dur­ing the 1948 war over Is­rael’s cre­ation.

Is­rael has al­leged that Ha­mas is us­ing the mass marches as a cover for at­tack­ing the bor­der fence, and has vowed to pre­vent a breach at all costs.

The mil­i­tary said pro­test­ers yes­ter­day hurled sev­eral ex­plo­sive de­vices and fire­bombs, us­ing the thick plumes of smoke from burn­ing tyres as cover, and that sev­eral at­tempts to cross the fence were thwarted.

Gaza’s shad­owy Ha­mas strong­man, Ye­hiyeh Sin­war, told a cheer­ing crowd at one of the protest camps that a bor­der breach was com­ing.

The world should ‘‘wait for our great move, when we pen­e­trate the bor­ders and pray at Al-Aqsa’’, Sin­war said, re­fer­ring to the ma­jor Mus­lim shrine in Jerusalem. He was in­ter­rupted sev­eral times by the crowd, who chanted, ‘‘We are go­ing to Jerusalem, mil­lions of mar­tyrs!’’ and ‘‘God bless you Sin­war!’’.

The mass protests are per­haps Ha­mas’s last chance to break a bor­der block­ade en­forced by Is­rael and Egypt since 2007, with­out hav­ing to suc­cumb to de­mands that it dis­arm. The block­ade has made it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for Ha­mas to gov­ern. It has also dev­as­tated Gaza’s econ­omy, made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple to en­ter and exit the ter­ri­tory, and left res­i­dents with just a few hours of elec­tric­ity a day.

Is­rael ar­gues that Ha­mas could have ended the suf­fer­ing of Gaza’s 2 mil­lion peo­ple by dis­arm­ing and re­nounc­ing vi­o­lence.

Yes­ter­day’s marches be­gan be­fore Mus­lim noon pray­ers, when thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans streamed into five tent en­camp­ments that or­gan­is­ers had set up sev­eral hun­dred me­tres from the bor­der fence.

In one camp near the bor­der com­mu­nity of Khuzaa, smaller groups of ac­tivists moved closer to the fence after the pray­ers. De­mon­stra­tors torched large piles of tyres. Is­raeli troops on the other side of the fence re­sponded with live fire, tear gas, rub­ber­coated steel pel­lets and wa­ter can­non.

After the first tyres started burn­ing, sev­eral young men with gun­shot wounds be­gan ar­riv­ing at a field clinic at the camp.

Mo­hammed Ashour, 20, who had been among the first to set tyres on fire, was shot in the right arm. ‘‘We came here be­cause we want dig­nity,’’ he said, rest­ing on a stretcher be­fore paramedics trans­ported him to the strip’s main hospi­tal.

Ye­hia Abu Daqqa, a 20-year-old stu­dent, said he had come to hon­our those killed in pre­vi­ous protests.

‘‘Yes, there is fear,’’ he said of the risks of ad­vanc­ing to­ward the fence. ‘‘We are here to tell the oc­cu­pa­tion that we are not weak.’’

The death toll since last week in­cludes at least 22 civil­ians killed dur­ing the yes­ter­day’s two protests at the bor­der, as well as one killed dur­ing a protest on Wed­nes­day. The six other deaths in­clude three Pales­tinian gun­men killed in what Is­rael said were at­tempts to at­tack the bor­der fence, and three men who were struck by Is­raeli tank fire.

More than 1000 peo­ple suf­fered a range of in­juries, in­clud­ing those hit by live fire and those over­come by tear gas, the Gaza health min­istry said. Twelve women and 48 mi­nors were among those hurt, the of­fi­cials said.

At the United Na­tions head­quar­ters in New York, UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res urged all par­ties to ex­er­cise max­i­mum re­straint.

He said UN Mideast en­voy Nick­o­lay Mlade­nov had been in touch with Is­raeli and Pales­tinian of­fi­cials to re­in­force ‘‘the need to al­low peo­ple to demon­strate peace­fully.’’ Mlade­nov stressed the need to en­sure that ‘‘ex­ces­sive force is not used, and the need to en­sure that chil­dren are not de­lib­er­ately put in harm’s way’’.

For a se­cond week in a row, the United States blocked a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil state­ment sup­port­ing the right of Pales­tini­ans to demon­strate peace­fully and en­dors­ing Guter­res’ call for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the deadly protests in Gaza. Pales­tinian UN Am­bas­sador Riyad Man­sour said that 14 of the 15 coun­cil na­tions agreed to the state­ment, but the US, Is­rael’s clos­est ally, ob­jected.

A White House en­voy urged Pales­tini­ans to stay away from the fence.

Ha­mas has billed the fi­nal protest, set for May 15, as the ‘‘Great March of Re­turn’’ of Pales­tinian refugees and their de­scen­dants, im­ply­ing that they could try to en­ter Is­rael.

Two-thirds of Gaza’s res­i­dents are de­scen­dants of refugees. Pales­tini­ans com­mem­o­rate May 15 as their ‘‘nakba,’’ or catas­tro­phe, when hun­dreds of thou­sands were up­rooted from homes in what is now Is­rael. AP

PHOTO: AP

Pales­tinian pro­test­ers chant slo­gans next to burn­ing tyres dur­ing clashes with Is­raeli troops east of Khan You­nis in the Gaza Strip yes­ter­day. Pales­tini­ans torched piles of tyres near Gaza’s bor­der with Is­rael, send­ing huge plumes of black smoke into...

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