Five killed in clashes as pro­test­ers march to­wards Gaza bor­der fence

The Herald - - INTERNATIONAL - GAZA

„ A woman raises her inked fin­ger af­ter vot­ing in a poll sta­tion on the first day of the 3-day pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Egypt which re­turned Fat­tah al-sisi to power. AT least five peo­ple were killed as large crowds of flag-wav­ing Pales­tinian pro­test­ers marched to­wards the Gaza bor­der fence with Is­rael, some of them throw­ing stones and draw­ing Is­raeli fire.

The Pales­tinian health min­istry said at least 500 Pales­tini­ans were hurt by live fire, rub­ber-coated steel pel­lets or tear gas fired by Is­raeli forces at sev­eral lo­ca­tions along the fence, but did not pro­vide the break­down.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, in a sep­a­rate in­ci­dent, a Pales­tinian farmer was killed by an Is­raeli tank shell while he was work­ing in his field be­fore dawn, the min­istry said.

The protests had be­gun as mass sit-ins or­gan­ised by Gaza’s Ha­mas rulers, but quickly spun out of con­trol.

Is­rael’s mil­i­tary said thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans rolled burn­ing tyres and threw stones at forces sta­tioned on the bor­der, and that troops opened fire at the “main in­sti­ga­tors”.

Pales­tinian wit­nesses said hun­dreds of Pales­tini­ans par­tic­i­pated in the clashes, while thou­sands more gath­ered in tent en­camp­ments set up in five sites near the bor­der.

Such mass gath­er­ings near the bor­der sig­nal a new tac­tic by Ha­mas – and one that might prove more chal­leng­ing to Is­rael’s mil­i­tary than pre­vi­ous smaller protests.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have said they will re­spond harshly to any breaches of the bor­der fence. At the same time, a ris­ing num­ber of ca­su­al­ties will likely stoke more bor­der ten­sions, a sce­nario Is­rael hopes to avoid.

The sit-ins are seen as a new at­tempt by Ha­mas to break a crip­pling, decade-old Gaza bor­der block­ade by Is­rael and Egypt that has made it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group to gov­ern.

Other tac­tics over the years, in­clud­ing Ha­mas’ cross-bor­der wars with Is­rael and at­tempts to rec­on­cile with po­lit­i­cal ri­val Mah­moud Ab­bas, the West Bank-based Pales­tinian pres­i­dent, have failed to end Gaza’s iso­la­tion.

Ha­mas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout.

“The large crowds... re­flect the Pales­tinian „ A Pales­tinian pro­tester hurls stones to­ward Is­raeli sol­diers dur­ing a demon­stra­tion near the Gaza Strip bor­der with Is­rael, in eastern Gaza City. peo­ple’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to achieve the right of re­turn and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.

Yes­ter­day’s ac­tions are to be the first in a se­ries of protests planned in Gaza in com­ing weeks. The protests are to cul­mi­nate on May 15, the 70th an­niver­sary of Is­rael’s cre­ation, with a march through the bor­der fence.

Pales­tini­ans com­mem­o­rate the date as the an­niver­sary of their mass dis­place­ment and up­root­ing dur­ing the 1948 war over Is­rael’s cre­ation. The vast ma­jor­ity of Gaza res­i­dents are de­scen­dants of Pales­tini­ans who fled or were driven from com­mu­ni­ties in what is now Is­rael.

Is­rael’s mil­i­tary said ahead of yes­ter­day’s protests that it dou­bled its stan­dard troop level along the bor­der, de­ploy­ing snipers, spe­cial forces and para­mil­i­tary bor­der po­lice units, which spe­cialise in riot con­trol.

Ma­jor Gen­eral Eyal Zamir, com­man­der of the Is­raeli mil­i­tary’s South­ern Com­mand, which in­cludes the bor­der, said “we are iden­ti­fy­ing at­tempts to carry out ter­ror at­tacks un­der the cam­ou­flage of ri­ots”.

He held Ha­mas re­spon­si­ble for any vi­o­lence there.

Pre­vi­ous protests near the bor­der fence in re­cent months have turned deadly, with Is­raeli sol­diers fir­ing live bul­lets at Pales­tini­ans burn­ing tyres, throw­ing stones or hurl­ing fire­bombs.

Yes­ter­day, mosques across Gaza called on Pales­tini­ans to join the protests. Buses took pro­test­ers to the bor­der area.

Sev­eral hours be­fore the con­fronta­tions, a Pales­tinian farmer iden­ti­fied as 27-yearold Amr Samour was killed by an Is­raeli tank shell in south­ern Gaza, the health min­istry said.

Is­rael said troops had di­rected tank fire at sus­pi­cious fig­ures near the bor­der fence in the area.

Yasser Samour, a rel­a­tive and fel­low farmer, said Amr Samour was har­vest­ing pars­ley be­fore dawn, in hopes of sell­ing it fresh in the mar­ket later in the day.

“I was work­ing on the next field,” Mr Samour said. “We heard shelling land­ing on the field where Amr works. We ran there and found him hit di­rectly with a shell. We were more than a kilo­me­tre away from the bor­der.”

Another farmer was wounded in the leg by shrap­nel, Mr Samour said.

Picture: Matilde Cam­podon­ico/ap

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