Four Palestinians were killed and 92 were wounded Friday by Israeli military live fire in protests on the Gaza border, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. Thousands participated in what had been expected to be the largest march on the Israeli border fence in weeks.
According to the ministry, 618 Palestinians were wounded overall in the clashes as of 7 P.M., of them 254 were hospitalized. One of those wounded was in critical condition, eight suffered serious wounds and 125 moderately injured. The ministry said that 117 people were wounded by live rounds.
The Israeli military was preparing for the possibility that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad would begin firing mortars and rockets when the protests ended. The miltiary deployed a significant number of Iron Dome batteries near neighboring communities.
While the army has in previous weeks said that Hamas was not interested in a major confrontation, the recent firing of dozens of mortars into Israel has led the military to believe that the Islamist group may seek a limited confrontation that includes the firing of projectiles.
Some 10,000 protesters demonstrated at five locations along the fence. An Israeli military post was damaged when it was fired upon from Gaza during the protests. In addition, dozens of kites and balloons carrying Molotov cocktails and explosives were flown into Israel, and explosive devices and grenades were thrown at Israeli troops.
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Israel was expecting the protests to be of similar size and force as those of May 14, when around 60 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces. However, it appeared that turnout was lower than expected.
Some of the Palestinians protesting as part of the "March of Return" were expected to display Holocaust-themed clothes, including a striped uniform representing the garb Jews were forced to wear in Nazi camps.
The protest's organizers said that the theme was intended to send a message that the Palestinians are not responsible for the Holocaust, yet they pay the price for it. They said the protest's overarching goal was to show the world that Israel is committing crimes against the Palestinian people.
The Palestinians and their supporters asked the UN General Assembly on Friday to hold an emergency meeting to adopt a resolution that would deplore Israel's "excessive use of force," particularly in Gaza, and seek recommendations to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians.
Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour said he believes General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak will set a date "very soon." He said "most likely" it will be next Wednesday afternoon.
Mansour said the resolution to be put to the General Assembly, like a previous Kuwaiti resolution, will ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to make proposals within 60 days "on ways and means for ensuring the safety, protection and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation."
Hamas has been urging Palestinians in the West Bank to join in the “March of Return” by heading to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque or at Israeli checkpoints along the way. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank the Palestinian Authority leadership is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.
As in previous demonstrations in recent weeks, the army deployed snipers along the border with Gaza. It said it has received warnings about possible efforts to target soldiers with gunfire or explosives. The committee organizing the weekly marches said it plans to continue them, despite the large number of Palestinian casualties during the 11 previous demonstrations. It said the goal is to tell the world that Palestinians continue to insist on their rights, including the right of return.
Gazans, who have been flying burning kites over the border, planned to send dozens of them into Israel Friday.
“We aren’t connected to any organization,” said one of the kite fliers. “The idea began when we saw children with kites with Palestinian flags at the first march. We saw that a kite flies quickly and enters Israel territory, and then we thought of tying flammable material or something burning to it.”
“We’re not terrorists,” he insisted. ”We’re a generation with no hope and no horizon that lives under a suffocating siege, and that’s the message we’re trying to send the world. In Israel, they cry over the fields and forests that burned up. What about us, who are dying every day?
“Personally, I’ve gone to the fence several times, and it’s clear it’s a matter of time until I get a bullet in the head or until they amputate my leg because of leg wounds. So I’d rather fly a kite and participate in the protest than die.”
He said that had Hamas or any other Palestinian organization been supporting the fire kites, he and his companions wouldn’t have such trouble obtaining the materials for them.
“Each kite costs almost five shekels [$1.40],” he explained. “In Gazan terms, that’s money if you’re talking about quantity. Therefore, creativity leads us to use anything at hand — discarded cardboard and plastic or anything that can be used to build a kite, which is so simple but is challenging the strongest army in the Middle East.”
The army dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip Thursday morning, warning residents not to approach the fence or try to attack Israelis.
“Residents of the Gaza Strip! Greetings, and may Ramadan bring you blessings,” the leaflets said. "A wise man considers the results of his actions in advance and chooses the action whose benefits outweigh the costs. If you consider this with regard to approaching or crossing the fence, you’ll reach the conclusion that this act isn’t worthwhile and is even harmful.”
The leaflets also urged Gazans “not to let Hamas turn you into a tool to serve its narrow interests. Behind these interests stands Shi’ite Iran, whose goal is to inflame the region for the sake of its religious and ethnic interests. You shouldn’t let Hamas turn you into its hostages, so that it can reap political capital at the expense of the welfare and future of Gazans in general, and young Gazans in particular. To avoid harmful results, we urge you not to take part in demonstrations and anarchy and not to put yourself in danger.”
The Associated Press contributed to the story.