By Middle East Affairs and Reuters
Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians on Friday and wounded 349 other protesters along the Gaza-Israel border just hours after a United Nations official decried Israel’s “excessive force.”
Since Gazans began the “Great March of Return” protests along the Gaza-Israel on March 30, Israeli troops have killed 42 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,000. For this week’s protests, coordinators launched the slogan “Jumah al-Shabab al-Thaer” (“Friday of the Rebellious Youth”) as an affirmation of the right of young people to return to their ancestral lands.
On Friday, Reuters reporters witnessed protesters hurling stones and rolling burning tires toward the fence, while others attached cans of burning petrol to kites and flew them into Israeli territory, especially from the area of Burejj.
Reuters said they also cleared away barbed wire coils that Israeli troops had placed in Gazan territory overnight to try to create a buffer between protesters and the fence.
Israeli ground troops holed up behind fortifications on their side of the 40km (25-mile) border fence, fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters at five locations on the Gazan side.
The Gaza health ministry said 75 were wounded by gun fire, including one Palestinian journalist, Nabil Darabieh. Two of the wounded are in critical condition, while two are in very serious condition. Palestinian Maan news agency said two people were shot east of Gaza City and one east of Khan Yunis.
Dozens more, including four medics and seven journalists, were treated for gas inhalation, as Reuters said Israeli forces “showered the area with tear gas canisters from behind their fortifications.”
The injured journalists were Abdul Rahman Al Kahlout, Hisham Hamadeh, Lana Shaheen, Isalam Al-Zanoun, Amjad Shbair, Mohamed Almasri and Mohammed Jouda.
The Israeli Defense Forces said hundreds of Palestinians rushed the border in central Gaza near the Karni Crossing and Israeli troops fired in response.
The protests come at a time of growing frustration for Palestinians as prospects for an independent Palestinian state look poor. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have expanded.
In a statement released earlier on Friday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the loss of life “deplorable” and that a “staggering number of injuries” had been caused by live ammunition.
Israel’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment but the government has consistently said that it is protecting its borders and that its troops are following rules of engagement.
Haaretz reported a Hamas spokesman as saying Friday afternoon: “The crimes of the occupation against demonstrators will only strengthen the motivation of youth to continue in the national struggle until the siege is broken.”
Political head of Hamas Yahya Sinwar also joined the protests, Haaretez said, and commented, “We are continuing processions until the implementation of the right of return and breaking the siege and living with dignity.”