By Middle East Affairs
In Friday’s revamp of protests along the Gaza-Israel border, reports say one Palestinian died and 163 Palestinians have been hit by Israeli fire, including five journalists, while the army says protesters are throwing explosives at the fences.
The “Great March of Return,” which began March 30, is a six-week long protest in which Palestinians have set up tent camps near the Gaza-Israel border and intend to draw international attention to poor living conditions in Gaza and a desire to return to their homeland.
The demonstrations intensify on Fridays, such as last week when protesters began setting tires on fire. Today they are burning Israeli flags and waiving those of Palestine.
The Israeli troops posted along the border have been ordered to ensure that no one breaches or damages the fences, even if that means shooting at unarmed protesters.
One Palestinian, Islam Herzallah, 28, died of his wounds.
Haaretz reported that 163 Palestinians had been wounded Friday by Israeli gunfire. Another 968 also suffered injuries, mostly from smoke inhalation. Of the injured, 17 were medics or journalists.
The journalists who were wounded Friday by Israeli fire were Mohammed el Hajjar; Ahmed Abu Hassanein; Ahmed Abuelba; Anas Ahmed; and Raghda Yaseen, who is a reporter for Koffeya Television.
Last Friday – April 6 – saw five journalist injuries. One of them, Yaser Murtaja, 30, later died of his wounds in the hospital.
The Israeli military maintains that it does not intentionally shoot journalists and that most of the protesters hit by bullets are militants trying to ignite violence. Israel believes Hamas, the armed group in control of the Gaza Strip, is attempting to use the protests as a decoy for attacks.
The military said Friday protesters had begun to throw explosives and firebombs at the border, and even used guns.
According to Haaretz, “the (Israeli Defense Force) said attempts were made to breach and cross the border fence. An explosive charge was thrown in the Karni area, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at the border. A kite with a Molotov cocktail was sent towards the Israeli side of the border, but it fell on the side of Gaza, and no one was hurt.”
Protest organizers say the demonstrations are meant to be nonviolent. One organizer told Haaretz, “Israel is trying in every way to pin the marches on Hamas and it’s very convenient for them if this action becomes violent on the Palestinian side, and that’s why we won’t allow it.”
Israel carried out airstrikes on Hamas positions this week. The organizer told the news agency he believed this was proof that Israel was trying to draw Palestinians into a violent confrontation.
Israel’s handling of the protests, which is garnering international criticism, has left 33 Palestinians killed and more than 1,200 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Another 1,500 have received treatment for tear gas inhalation or injuries from rubber-coated steel pellets.