Gaza Strip march: at least 15 killed, 1,400 injured by Israeli troops



GAZA, Shabtai Gold, Stefanie Jaerkel and Saud Abu Ramadan (dpa)- At least 15 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,400 injured on Friday following clashes with Israeli soldiers near the Gaza Strip border, where tens of thousands marched in the name of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The march, which kicks off a six-week-long border protest, was billed by organizers as non-violent.
However, the Israeli army, accused the Islamist Hamas group that controls the Gaza Strip of using "these violent riots in order to camouflage terror."



Thousands of Palestinians marched with flags and set up tent encampments near the border, while the army said Palestinians lobbed petrol bombs and rocks.
Some approached the Israel-Gaza border fence, the army said, prompting soldiers to fire on the "main instigators."
The Israeli army said that after two Palestinians had exchanged fire with Israeli troops at the border, Israeli jets and tanks had targeted three sites belonging to Hamas in response.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said 15 men between the ages of 18 and 34 were killed, and nearly 800 were injured from live fire and hundreds more from rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation.
The Israeli army said at least two of the men were affiliated with Hamas.
Palestine’s UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour said at least 17 civilians were killed, including children under the age of 16.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday as a day of mourning to commemorate those who died during the protests.
In an emergency Security Council meeting in New York, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the UN's acting chief for political affairs, said he feared the situation "might deteriorate in the coming days."
Zerihoun urged Israel to uphold its responsibilities under humanitarian law and reiterated that lethal force should only be used as a last resort and civilians, particularly children, should not be targeted.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply concerned" in a statement and called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths.
He also appealed to those concerned to "refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and in particular any measures that could place civilians in harm's way."
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War created a mass exodus of Palestinians from what is now Israel.
Many today live in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and neighbouring countries, as Israel does not allow them to return.
The Gaza Strip faces an increasingly dire humanitarian situation exacerbated by a blockade of the coastal enclave administered by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade.
The Israeli military says there are six focal points of the protests - dubbed the "Great March of Return" - along the Gaza border wall.
Photos from Gaza showed drones used to fire tear gas, as Israel set up a "closed military zone" in the areas near the border line.
Hamas had called for a peaceful protest last week, amid signs Israel was prepared to use force to push back the march and prevent anyone from approaching the Israel-Gaza border fence.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned protesters against approaching the border fence, writing on Twitter that "anyone approaching the fence risks their lives."
According to a report by the Israeli news site Ynet, the army had placed more than 100 snipers near the border before the protests.
The protest will culminate on May 15, the day after Israel declared independence, which is marked by Palestinians as Nakba Day, Arabic for "catastrophe."
"The Hamas terror organization is responsible for the violent riots and everything taking places under its auspices," the army said.
The Israeli army said 30,000 people took part in the event so far, though Palestinians say the number is higher.
Fatima Arayshi, a 45-year-old woman from the Beach refugee camp, joined the march with her husband and five children, saying the goal of the demonstration was to restore refugee's rights.
"We were kicked out from our land and our homes, and I hope that the whole world would back us and help us gain our rights," she said while holding the Palestinian flag.
"We are all here united, and we are all ready to sacrifice together, until our occupied lands are liberated and the refugees return home and gain their land back," she said.
Protesters also burned images of US President Donald Trump, whose controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy there on May 14 - Israel's 70th independence day - sparked Palestinian outrage.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that the mass protests were a challenge to the US. "The Great March of Return is a message to Trump," Haniyeh said in a speech to participants east of Gaza City.
"There is no concession on Jerusalem, no alternative to Palestine, and no solution but to return," Haniyeh said.
"This is the Palestinian people taking the initiative and making the event for the sake of Palestine ... for the sake of Jerusalem and the right of return."
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Saturday, March 31st 2018
Shabtai Gold, Stefanie Jaerkel and Saud Abu Ramadan (dpa)
           


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