MULTIPLE DEATHS AT MASSIVE GAZA BORDER PROTEST
Organizers from Hamas vow daily demonstrations
GAZA, PALESTINIAN TERRITORY • Thousands of Palestinians marched to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday in the largest such demonstration in recent memory, and 15 were killed by Israeli fire on the first day of what Hamas organizers said will be six weeks of daily protests against a border blockade.
It was the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 crossborder war between Israel and Hamas.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 750 people were wounded.
The Israeli military said a crowd of Palestinians — some estimates put the number at more than 20,000 — threw stones, firebombs, and rolled burning tires toward troops deployed on the other side of the border fence. It accused militants of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of mass protests, saying that in one incident, Palestinian gunmen fired toward soldiers.
Earlier, the army said extremists tried to plant explosives along the border under cover of the protests and in one case sent a seven-year-old girl to the fence in an apparent attempt to draw Israeli fire, but soldiers understood what was happening and returned the girl to her parents.
The large turnout of the flag-waving marchers in the dangerous border zone was a testament to Hamas’ organizing skills, but it also signalled desperation among Gaza residents after a decade-old border closure. Life in the coastal strip has deteriorated further in recent months, with rising unemployment, grinding poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours.
Israel had warned that it would use live ammunition, dropping leaflets saying that anyone who came within 300 metres of the fence would be in danger. But some Gazans said they did not care if they died.
“I want to be shot,” said 22-year-old Yahya Abu Assar. “I don’t want this life.”
Asmaa al-Katari said she participated in the march despite the risks and would join upcoming protests because “life is difficult here in Gaza and we have nothing to lose.”
A few hundred metres from the border near Gaza City, a festival atmosphere prevailed as families gathered for picnics. Stalls sold ice cream, smoothies, nuts and sandwiches, even as ambulances screamed past ferrying the injured and as tear gas canisters were dropped from drones.
“We are here to say we want to return to our land,” said Suheila Abu Rish, 65. She said her family was displaced from Ashdod, now an Israeli city 50 kilometres up the coast, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel had threatened a tough response, hoping to deter breaches of the border fence. The Israeli military released video showing a row of snipers perched on a high earthen embankment facing the Gaza crowd in one location.
Friday’s high death toll and prospects of daily protests in coming weeks have raised concerns about another escalation along the volatile frontier. Israel and the Islamist militant Hamas have fought three cross-border wars in recent years.
Other attempts to break the blockade, including wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with the West Bankbased Mahmoud Abbas, have failed over the years.
The latest Egyptian-led reconciliation efforts collapsed earlier this month, when a bomb targeted but missed Abbas’ prime minister and intelligence chief during a visit to Gaza.
Hamas and Abbas traded accusations after the bombing, signalling that any deal on Hamas handing the Gaza government to Abbas is increasingly unlikely.
The Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, said the protests are a signal to Israel and the world that “our people will not accept the continuation of the siege.”
Israel and the Trump administration expressed concern in recent months about a looming humanitarian crisis in Gaza and appealed to the international community to fund large-scale development projects there, including a desalination plant.
However, such plans appeared to be linked to a deal on Abbas taking charge in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout. “The large crowds ... reflect the Palestinian people’s determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.
Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, commander of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, which includes the Gaza border, said he held Hamas responsible for the violence and alleged there were attempts to “carry out terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.”
Friday’s protest campaign began as Jews prepared to mark Passover, and it is scheduled to culminate with the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in midMay.
An injured Palestinian man is carried by fellow protesters as they run for cover during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip on Friday. At least 15 people were killed, with the Palestinian Health Ministry claiming more than 750...
A Palestinian child stands outside a tent during a tent city protest Friday near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. At least 15 Palestinian protesters in Gaza were killed by Israeli fire as tensions in the area escalate.