Nine Palestinians were killed by Israeli army gunfire, seven of whom died during the resumed clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces along the Israel-Gaza border on Friday, Gaza's Health Ministry reported. Journalist Yaser Murtaja, who was shot in the chest while wearing a vest marked "press" at a demonstration east of Gaza City, succumbed to his wounds on Saturday. It was the second consecutive Friday of mass protests known as the "March of Return," a series of demonstrations along the border leading up to Nakba Day.
According to Gaza's Health Ministry, 1,070 Palestinian protesters were wounded, 293 of whom by Israeli military gunfire. Twenty-five of those wounded by gunfire are in critical condition. Some 442 protesters were evacuated to hospitals in Gaza, with more treated at the scene, mainly for smoke inhalation.
The Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate reported four other journalists were wounded by gunfire during the clashes.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement on Saturday in which he condemned Israel's "murder and opression of the Palestinians who took part in nonviolent demonstrations in the Gaza Strip." Abbas called on the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Palestinian representatives in the Arab League and European Union to confront the international community in order "to stop Israel's crime and killing of unarmed demonstrators."
Gaza's Health Ministry identified the Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire on Friday as Osama Khamis, 38, Majdi Shabat, Hussein Mohammed Madi, 16, Subhi Abu Atawi, 20, Mohammed Said Al-Haj, 33, Sodki Faraj Abu Atawi, 45, and Alaa Adin Azamli, 17, bringing the death toll to 29 since the "March of Return." Hamza Abad Al-al, 20, and independent photojournalist Yaser Murtaja, 30, succumbed to their gunshot wounds on Saturday. According to the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, Murtaja was shot by gunfire while standing 350 meters from the border fence.
Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Ronen Manelis said 20,000 Palestinians protested in five locations throughout the Gaza Strip, with demonstrators hurling stones and firebombs at the border fence. The military said it thwarted dozens of attempts by protesters to illegally cross the border into Israel.
Earlier Friday, the ministry reported on the death of Tair Mohammed, Raba'a, a 30-year-old protester who was wounded near the border fence last week during the demonstrations.
In light of such a death toll, the Health Ministry has called upon the United Nations, foreign governments and international organizations to deliver medicine and other medical supplies to hospitals in Gaza, where there is a dire shortage in essential drugs.
Demonstrators set fire to hundreds of tires along the border fence with the aim of preventing Israeli forces from identifying and wounding the protesters through the thick black smoke. As a result, the day of protests is being referred to as "Tire Day." Demonstrators also burned U.S. flags and pictures of Saudi Arabia's crown prince, who said Tuesday that the Israelis have a right to live on their own land.
Clashes also erupted in the West Bank, with the Health Ministry in Ramallah reporting that two Palestinians were wounded from rubber-tipped bullets fired by Israeli forces. One of those wounded was shot in the head, while the second sustained a gunshot wound to the leg.
According to IDF Spokesman Manelis, the military's conduct during last Friday's protest – in which 15 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli army fire – acted as a deterrence during this week's demonstrations. Manelis noted that while less Palestinians participated in the demonstrations, more children were sent toward the border fence compared to last week. While the IDF said its open-fire protocol remained unchanged, the army used less ammunition than it did last week, instead making use of crowd dispersal methods.
Despite the lower turnout compared to last Friday, the organizers of the "March of Return" described the day of protests as a great success, both in terms of the amount of Gazans who came to the border area and the amount of young Palestinians who headed calls to approach the fence.
Speaking at one of the protests near the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' political leader in the Strip, said: "The Palestinian people in Gaza are fighting against the occupation and it will blow up in the face of the occupation."
Hamas mandated all of its platoon officers ahead of the protests to join the demonstrations along with their family members. In preperation for the rallies, tractors expanded the encampment near Khan Yunis and mounded sand heaps along the fence to protect demonstrators from IDF fire.
Israeli forces on the ground were surprised by the absence of police and border police. Last week, police were tasked with dispersing protesters at the border but soldiers themselves employed methods like tear gas this week. Officers were not ordered to arrive, say police, and instead stationed in the area in case any Palestinian protesters succeeded to breach the border fence.
The Adalah Legal Center and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza, petitioned Israel's Attorney General and the IDF's Military Advocate General and requested they explicitly order Israeli forces to refrain from using any kind of live ammunition.
"Live gunfire against protesters in Gaza is against international law and Israeli law," read the statement. "We state and emphasize again that this infringement amplifies itself with clear criminal dimensions, in light of the fact that it is premeditated and on the basis of intention to use live ammunition illegally."
The protests started last Friday on Land Day, a day Palestinians worldwide have commemorated since 1976, when Israeli security forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities. About 100 others were wounded and hundreds were arrested during the protest on March 30 of that year.
As part of the "March of Return," thousands of Palestinians are camping out in a what is being called a "tent city" near the fence as an extended protest until Nakba Day in mid-May, with weekly demonstrations on Fridays. Nabka Day, which commemorates the flight or expulsion of more than 700,000 Arabs during Israels War of Independence in 1947-49, is usually observed on Israeli Independence Day as well as its official date of May 15.
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