Of­fi­cials: 1 Pales­tinian killed, 223 wounded by Is­raeli fire

Austin American-Statesman - - NATION & WORLD - By Mo­hammed Daraghmeh and Fares Akram As­so­ci­ated Press

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP — Thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans, some burn­ing Is­raeli flags and torch­ing tires, staged a mass protest on Gaza’s sealed bor­der with Is­rael for a third con­sec­u­tive Fri­day, as part of a pres­sure cam­paign to break a decade-old block­ade of their ter­ri­tory.

Is­raeli live fire from across the bor­der fence killed a 28-year-old Pales­tinian man and wounded at least 223, Gaza health of­fi­cials said.

The death brought to 28 the num­ber of pro­test­ers killed in two weeks, with more than 1,500 wounded by Is­raeli fire since March 30, they said.

The marches have been or­ga­nized by Gaza’s Ha­mas rulers, but large turnouts on two pre­ced­ing Fri­days were also driven by des­per­a­tion among the ter­ri­tory’s 2 mil­lion res­i­dents who have been en­dur­ing a crip­pling bor­der clo­sure by Is­rael and Egypt since 2007.

“We want to live like ev­ery­one else in the world,” said 37-year-old con­struc­tion worker Omar Ha­mada, an un­em­ployed fa­ther of eight. “We came here so the world can see us and know that life here is mis­er­able, and that there should be a so­lu­tion.”

On Fri­day, the turnout seemed to be sig­nif­i­cantly lower than on pre­vi­ous Fri­days — some 10,000 pro­test­ers ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli mil­i­tary — rais­ing ques­tions about the or­ga­niz­ers’ goal of keep­ing the mass marches go­ing un­til mid-May.

Gaza’s Health Min­istry said that 969 peo­ple were hurt Fri­day, in­clud­ing 223 by live fire and the rest by tear gas, rub­ber-coated steel pel­lets or shrap­nel. Fif­teen of the wounded were in se­ri­ous con­di­tions, in­clud­ing a Gaza jour­nal­ist. The count also in­cluded 67 mi­nors and 20 women, health of­fi­cials said.

Rights groups have de­scribed the Is­raeli mil­i­tary’s open-fire reg­u­la­tions as un­law­ful, say­ing they per­mit sol­diers to use po­ten­tially lethal force against un­armed pro­test­ers.

Is­rael has ac­cused Gaza’s Is­lamic mil­i­tant Ha­mas rulers of us­ing the protests as a cover for at­tacks and says snipers only tar­get the main “in­sti­ga­tors.”

On Fri­day, most of the demon­stra­tors as­sem­bled at five tent camps lo­cated sev­eral hun­dred me­ters (yards) from the bor­der fence.

Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throw­ing stones, torch­ing tires and burn­ing large Is­raeli flags, U.S. flags, as well as posters of Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter and de­fense min­is­ter. Large plumes of black smoke from burn­ing tires rose into the sky.

Is­raeli forces fired tear gas, rub­ber-coated steel pel­lets and live rounds. Mil­i­tary spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Con­ri­cus said that Pales­tini­ans re­peat­edly tried to dam­age the bor­der fence, throw­ing sev­eral ex­plo­sives and fire bombs at it.

Footage dis­trib­uted by the mil­i­tary showed an area of the fence made up of sev­eral lay­ers of barbed wire coils. Pro­test­ers stuck a Pales­tinian flag into the fence and af­fixed a rope, us­ing it to tug at the coils. One man threw a burn­ing tire into the fence, while an­other was seen walk­ing nearby with the help of a crutch.

Gaza has en­dured a bor­der block­ade by Is­rael and Egypt since Ha­mas over­ran the ter­ri­tory in 2007, a year af­ter win­ning Pales­tinian par­lia­ment elec­tions.

The block­ade has driven Gaza deeper into poverty, with un­em­ploy­ment ap­proach­ing 50 per­cent and elec­tric­ity avail­able for less than five hours a day.

The marchers are protest­ing against the block­ade, but are also as­sert­ing what they say is a “right of re­turn” of Pales­tinian refugees and their descen­dants to what is now Is­rael.

Ha­mas lead­ers have sent mixed sig­nals about whether they plan an even­tual mass breach of the bor­der fence. The protests are to cul­mi­nate in a large rally on May 15, the 70th an­niver­sary of Is­rael’s cre­ation.

LIOR MIZRAHI/GETTY IM­AGES

Is­raeli sol­diers take po­si­tions as Pales­tini­ans gather for a protest on the Is­rael-Gaza bor­der Fri­day in Ne­tivot, Is­rael. Thou­sands of Gaza res­i­dents protested as part of their “March of Re­turn” drive.

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