By Middle East Affairs
Eight Gazans, including two children, have died, three journalists are injured, and more than 1,000 others have been injured so far in Friday’s march at the Gaza-Israel border, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The six adult protesters who died were Osama Khames Qdeeh, 38; Ahmed Nizar Muhareb, 29; Ibraheem Elaer, 20; Sudqi Faraj Abuitewi, 45; Mohammed Saeed Saleh and Majdi Ramadan Thabet, the ministry said. Two 16-year-old boys, Hussein Madi and Alaa Elzamiley, also died.
Journalist Yaser Murtaja was hit in the abdomen by live bullets while filming the protests east of Khan Younis in Gaza and died later during the hospital operation.
Photographer Khalil Abu-Atra was shot in the thigh during his filming of the demonstrations near the security fence east of Rafah-2. Another journalist, Adham El Hajjar, was also injured at the protests, as well as photographer Ibraheem El Zanoun, and AFP photographer Saber Nureldine.
Of the injured, at least 40 were due to live ammunition, with at least five suffering serious wounds to the upper body and head.
The ministry said many citizens have been treated on the ground at medical points and emergency crews, mostly for smoke inhalation, while the seriously injured have been evacuated to a Gazan hospital.
“Kaouchuk Friday,” or “Rubber Tires Friday,” has activists setting tires on fire with the aim of burning more than 10 thousand frames along the border. As of Friday afternoon protesters had brought more than 10,000 tires.
Israeli troops have been given the order to prioritize that no demonstrator crosses the border, leading to gunshots at unarmed protesters and more than 20 deaths in the past week.Palestinians in certain areas managed to cross the Israeli border Friday in large groups by hindering the Israeli snipers’ sight with smoke from the burning tires, as well as mirrors.
The burning tires are also damaging the border as planned, and Israeli firefighters are trying to douse the burning rubber with jets of water directed over defensive dirt mounds on its side of the border.
The return marchers began arriving early in the morning at the return camps. Palestinian youths gathered a large number of tires to ignite them during the day’s demonstrations, as well as mirrors to reflect sunlight and blind Israeli snipers on the other side of the fence.
Yahya al-Sinwar, leader in armed group Hamas and prime minister of Gaza Strip, arrived Friday at the tent camp east of the Khan Younis province in the southern Gaza to participate in the “Great March of Return” protest.
He said the protests must maintain high participation and action as “Gaza is hungry and will not abandon the Palestinian national project.”
He referenced using the tactics of former Palestinian freedom fighter Yasser Arafat as inspiration, and that “if we explode we will explode in the face of the Israeli occupation.”
“We come out today to tell the whole world that Gaza is free,” he said.
The protesters, including Palestinian refugees and their descendants seeking to regain homes in what is now Israel that were lost during its 1948-49 independence war, have set up tent encampments a few hundred meters (yards) inside Gaza.
“Israel took everything from us, the homeland, freedom, our future,” said Samer, a 27-year-old protester who would not give his full name, fearing Israeli reprisals. “I have two kids, a boy and a girl, and if I die, God will take care of them.”
The number of protesters on Friday was larger than in recent days, but lower than the outset of the disturbances on March 30, when 17 Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces.
The deaths drew international criticism of Israel’s response, which human rights groups said involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.
Israel stationed sharpshooters on its side of the frontier to deter Palestinians from trying to break through the fence. Many of those killed were militants, Israel said.
An Israeli military spokesman said on Friday that the army “will not allow any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians”.
Refugees comprise most of the 2 million population of Israeli-blockaded Gaza, an enclave ruled by the Islamist militant movement Hamas which calls for Israel’s destruction and is designated by Western states as a terrorist organisation.
The demonstrators have revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created.
The Israeli government has ruled out any right of return, fearing that the country would lose its Jewish majority.
Palestinian youths burned Israeli flags and planted Palestinian banners on dirt mounds beside tented encampments as others arrived on large trucks carrying piles of more tires to burn. Others launched stones with slingshots.
With Israeli tear gas rising into the air, Palestinian youths used T-shirts, cheap medical masks and perfume to try and protect themselves.
A U.N. human rights spokeswoman urged Israel to exercise restraint against the Palestinian protesters. “We are saying that Israel has obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed. And that if there is unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms, resulting in death, that may amount to a wilful killing,” Elizabeth Throssell said in Geneva.
Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border and that its troops have been responding with riot dispersal means and fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
The Palestinian deaths have elicited scant concern in Israel, which has been the target of thousands of rocket strikes from Gaza over the past few years.
Palestinian militant groups have also dug tunnels under the border fence to smuggle weapons, and to launch attacks.
The United States has supported Israel, its main Middle East ally, and criticized the protest organizers. “We condemn leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed,” President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said on Thursday.
This story is developing.