Most Killings of Palestinians During Gaza Protests Unintentional, Senior Israeli Officer Says

He says legs are being targeted, but in some cases the protester bent over, a sniper missed or a bullet ricocheted ■ Friday's attempt to breach fence was most violent yet, the officer adds

A wounded demonstrator is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest, on the Gaza-Israel border, April 27, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

Most of the Israeli army’s killings of Palestinians during the Gaza-border protests have resulted from snipers aiming at demonstrators’ legs, with the killings an unintentional outcome after a protester bent down, a sniper missed, a bullet ricocheted or a similar phenomenon, a senior officer in the Southern Command said.

The Israeli army has killed 44 protesters since March 30; it cites its efforts to prevent a breach of the border fence as Gazans demonstrate in their “March of Return” each Friday.

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The officer told Haaretz that open-fire directives on the border only let snipers shoot at the legs of people approaching the border, and that a person’s chest may be targeted only amid the other side’s apparent intent to use weapons and threaten Israelis’ lives.  

The officer, who was with Israeli forces at the fence Friday, said the demonstrators’ attempt to breach the barrier marked the most violent action by the Gaza Palestinians since their fence protests began.  

Four Palestinians were killed by crowd-control methods and sniper fire, including a 15-year-old boy, and hundreds were wounded. Most of the casualties occurred in one incident near the Karni crossing toward the end of the day, when hundreds of Palestinians breached the barbed-wire fence that the army had installed inside the Gaza Strip. Dozens of protesters reached the border itself.

The officer said it seemed the protesters were acting according to a decently organized plan. The crowd bypassed the Karni crossing from the south and moved toward the border, led by young men using pieces of barbed wire and makeshift winches to try to dismantle the barbed-wire fence blocking their way to the border.

Those who managed to cross the barbed-wire fence attacked the border fence itself with firebombs and explosives.

The army says that its crowd-control methods don’t do well in large open areas, and that the commanders had no alternative but live sniper fire to stop the incursions.

According to the officer, the latest protest shows that Hamas’ leaders completely control the scene and that the clashes are planned and managed from above. He said the Palestinians were intentionally sending children, women, disabled people and the mentally ill toward the fence.

Two 15-year-olds and two journalists have been killed so far. Most of the other fatalities are young men, some of them affiliated with Hamas.

Palestinians wounded during the Gaza fence protests await further medical treatment, Gaza City,  April 25, 2018.
Mahmud Hams / AFP