Gaza: At least six Palestinian have been killed and dozens injured as thousands of Gazans gathered near the border with Israel in fresh protests Friday, a week after Israeli forces shot dead 16 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,000 in the worst violence in the impoverished coastal strip since a 2014 war.
Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, called on Palestinians to turn out in even larger numbers than a week ago.
Organisers sought to thwart Israeli snipers by burning mounds of tires and using mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays into soldiers’ eyes.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the army will react as it did last week, and with even greater force, despite international alarm over its brutal force.
The UN human rights office said on Friday it had indications that Israeli forces used “excessive force” during a deadly crackdown on protesters last week in Gaza, and is expressing concerns about possible further violence.
Spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell noted on Friday that Israeli forces are required under international human rights law to use nonviolent means “to the extent possible.”
The international group Human Rights Watch accused Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman and other senior Israeli officials of unlawfully calling for the use of live fire against Palestinian protesters who posed no imminent threat to life
The group said Israel has presented no evidence that rock-throwing or other violence seriously threatened the soldiers on the other side of the fence.The protests aim to highlight the Palestinians’ plight as refugees ahead of key anniversaries on their calendar.
The protests are supposed to be held up until May 15 when the Palestinians commemorate 70 years of the Nakba, or catastrophe, marking the creation of the state of Israel which uprooted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.
The demonstrations have struck a chord with many Palestinians who see little to be optimistic about as Gaza’s economy continues to sink under the weight of war damage, sanctions imposed by the Palestinian government in the West Bank and an embargo enforced by Egypt and Israel.
The Israeli army said early Friday afternoon that hundreds of Palestinians were “rioting” in five spots along the border, and troops were responding with crowd-dispersal means.
“Those who get close to the fence will be seen as a target,” Nitzan Nuriel, a former director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, said in a conference call Thursday.
Hamas organizers said they expected similar numbers to the 40,000 or so who turned out last week, but by early afternoon the crowds seemed significantly thinner.
“Today we’re sending a message that our struggle is without arms and guns, and we will wait and see if the world receives the message and pressures Israel to stop its crimes against our people,” senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al Zahar said Friday at a rally in Gaza City.
“If the world fails to do so, then we’ll be obliged to use our arms.”
Tha’er Hasouna, a 20-year-old student from Gaza, said he turned out to support Palestinians’ demand to return to homes they fled or were expelled from when Israel was created 70 years ago.
“I came here to join the marches and rallies to tell the world that we have legitimate rights and need to gain these rights back, mainly the ‘right of return,’” said Hasouna, adding that his family is originally from Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv.
“I know that we can’t do it because we are not an army and can’t defy Israel. Therefore, we’re joining popular peaceful rallies hoping that our message will reach the world.”