Another Palestinian killed near Gaza-Israel border as more protests loom

‘He was standing next to me; he posed no danger to them but they killed him,’ said the father of the latest slain Palestinian

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 1:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 1:30am

A Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire in Gaza on Tuesday, Palestinian medics said, raising the death toll from recent clashes along the border to 17, as Israel’s defence minister warned further protests would be met with similar force.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians began a six-week-long protest last Friday in tent encampments set up along the fenced border of the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

They are pressing for a right of return for refugees who fled their towns and villages when the land they lived in became Israel in 1948.

Some 16 Palestinians died after being shot by Israeli troops on the first day of the protest, Palestinian medical officials said. 

The 17th Palestinian killed, a 25-year-old man, was standing about 50 metres (165 feet) from the border fence when he was shot, his father, Omar Ararat, said.

“He was standing next to me; he posed no danger to them but they killed him,” he said. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no initial information on the latest reported fatality.

The deaths occurred during one of the largest Palestinian demonstrations along the 65km (40-mile) border in years. 

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Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman defended Israel’s response.

“I warn (Gaza protesters) against continuing the provocation. We have set clear game rules and we do not intend to change them. Every person who comes close to the fence is endangering their lives,” he said on a visit to the border.

“This was a well-organised provocation by Hamas’s armed wing in an attempt to harm our sovereignty, to disrupt daily life and to disturb Israelis on their Seder [traditional Passover meal] night. We are doing what we must do.”

Gaza, a small coastal enclave, has been ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist movement sworn to Israel’s destruction, for much of the time since Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.

The military said its troops used live fire only against people trying to sabotage the fence or rolling burning tyres and throwing rocks. 

Palestinian organisers said they had called for a peaceful protest and Hamas denied that its fighters had fired on Israeli forces, using the crowds as cover, though it said five of the dead were members of its armed wing.

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Lieberman has characterised most of those killed last week as “terrorists that we know well who are active in the armed wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They were not innocent civilians who were part of a civil protest”.

In Gaza, protesters have begun gathering thousands of mirrors which they hope to use to blind Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence. The protesters say they also intend to use laser pointers to distract Israeli army sharpshooters.

“We were saddened by the martyrdom of 16 of us, some of them we knew as friends. This Friday we shall rise to challenge the occupation which killed them, and show them we are not afraid,” said Issa Abu Jamea’, 29, from Khan Younis in Gaza’s south.

He said he had taken part in protests every Friday since US President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the US embassy to the city.

Its eastern half was taken by Israel in a 1967 war and is wanted by Palestinians for the capital of a future state.

Palestinian organisers said they expect the number of participants to again swell to tens of thousands on Friday.

Riding on donkey carts and rickshaws, protesters scoured towns and villages across Gaza on Tuesday collecting old tyres from mechanics’ shops, fields and garbage dumps. 

The thick, black smoke emitted by burning tyres can reduce the effects of tear gas used by Israel security forces, they say.

The protest action is set to wind up on May 15, when Palestinians mark the “Naqba”, or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes during violence that culminated in war in May 1948 between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing it would lose its Jewish majority.