9 more dead as violence escalates along Gaza border
HUZAA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians protested along Gaza's sealed border with Israel on Friday, engulfing the volatile area in black smoke from burning tires 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.
Early Saturday, Palestinian health officials confirmed that Yasser Murtaga had died from a gunshot wound sustained while covering demonstrations near the Israeli border in Khuzaa. The area was the scene of large protests Friday, and was covered in thick black smoke.
Murtaga was over 100 meters 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. Journalists were in the area as protesters were setting tires on fire.
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 local TV production company that has done projects, including aerial drone video, for foreign media. He was not affiliated with Hamas or any other militant group.
The latest casualties were bound to draw new criticism from rights groups that have branded Israel’s open-fire orders on the border as unlawful, after Israel’s defense minister warned that those approaching the fence were risking their lives.
The U.N. human rights office said Friday that it has indications that Israeli forces used “excessive force” against protesters last week, when 15 Palestinians were killed or later died of wounds sustained 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 Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.