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Gaza protesters set tires ablaze amid renewed border confrontation with Israel

Palestinian protesters faced off against Israeli troops on Friday, creating a billowing smokescreen of burning tires on the Gaza side in the latest show of anger a week after deadly confrontations along the heavily guarded dividing line.

Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition and tear gas. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least one person was killed and 40 people were injured, five of them with critical injuries to head and upper body.

But the violence was markedly less than last week, when Palestinians in the blockaded enclave launched what they said would be six weeks of protests leading up to the May 15 commemoration of the Nakba, or catastrophe, marking the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians seven decades ago upon Israel’s creation.

A statement from the Israeli military said the army was operating “in accordance with the rules of engagement” to prevent those who had turned out to protest from breaching the no-go zone along the “security fence.”

Tear gas canisters landed more than 300 meters from the fence — the distance at which the Israeli military has told Gaza residents to stay away from the fence. Ahmed Qatari, a 32 year old paramedic in Gaza, said his ambulance had treated seven people for gunshot wounds at a demonstration point near Gaza City. All were shot in the lower limbs.

Israeli security forces are deployed near Kibbutz Nir Oz on the Israeli border with the southern Gaza Strip as smoke billows from tires burning in the Palestinian village of Khuzaa on April 6, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
One protester, Jalal Marzak, 40, said he sought to send the message that Palestinians in Gaza are still “dreaming and hoping.” He said the tire burning was a bad idea, but people are desperate.

[Death toll rises to 22 from Gaza clashes]

“People don’t know what to do,” said Marzak, who snuck out of his home after his wife demanded the family stay away from the protests because of possible danger.

“That’s her calling right now,” he said as his cellphone rang. “I’ll cancel it. I’m in big trouble.”

Hussein Simani, a 40-year-old paramedic, said Israeli soldiers appeared to be using less force than last week. But the protests were expected to swell after Friday prayers.

Mahmoud Kurdiya, 22, was dressed in a full suit stitched together with Palestinian scarves and carrying a Palestinian flag.

“My plan is to be peaceful,” he said, adding that he might throw stones if Israeli soldiers used a lot of gunfire.

Last week’s protests, which brought out more than 30,000 Gazans at five locations along the fence with Israel, have been followed by a week of unrest in the strip with demonstrators and militants arriving at the fence to challenge the Israeli presence on the border.

On Friday morning, a 30-year-old man was said to have died from injuries sustained during last Friday’s demonstration. The death of Thaer Rabaa, 30, brought the Palestinian death toll to 22 from last week’s clashes. Gaza Health Ministry said more than 1000 people had been wounded by gun shots.

Israel said at least 10 of the fatalities were militants, eight of them members of the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas has claimed only five as members of its military wing.

It marked the bloodiest day of violence in Gaza since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the 140-square mile stretch of territory. Israel, the United States and European Union label Hamas a terrorist organization. The other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, is led by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

The U.N. High Commission for Human Rights said in a statement that it was gravely concerned about what might happen this Friday, reminding Israel of “its obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed against protesters.”

Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, took a different approach, urging the leaders of the Gaza protest “to communicate loudly and clearly that protesters should march peacefully; should abstain from all forms of violence; should remain outside the 500-meter buffer zone; and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location.”

Hamas also released a statement urging demonstrators to remain “peaceful,” to obscure their faces and avoid confrontation with Israeli forces.
Last Friday, while most of the tens of thousands of protesters gathered peacefully, young men risked getting close to the border fence to threw rocks and molotov cocktails.

The organizing committee overseeing the demonstrations, which includes representatives of major militant factions in Gaza, have said they consider such acts as nonviolent in the face of armed soldiers. Its members, however, were against the idea of large-scale burning of tires on Friday, which has caught on over social media, but can do little to stop it.

[Gaza families call for investigation into Israeli use of fatal force]

In recent days, the Gazans have ferried cartloads of tires to the border fence with Israel. They say they hope the tires will shield them from Israeli snipers.

Hamas said that it was giving compensation to people who were injured — $200 for those lightly injured, $500 for serious injuries and $3,000 to families of those killed — raising concerns that young Palestinians with little to lose will be pushed to risk Israeli fire.

Last Friday, some young men said they hoped to be injured so they would be compensated, but were not sure whether they would receive payment. Some of those risking Israeli fire at the fence say they have little to lose.

Only a tiny proportion of Gaza’s 2 million residents are granted permission by Israel to leave to travel to the occupied West Bank. While Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the United Nations says it is still effectively occupied because of the level of control Israel exerts through its restrictions. Israel says they are necessary for security reasons since Hamas, designated by Israel and the United States as a terrorist organization, took control of Gaza in 2007.

Egypt also rarely opens its border, while a rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has compounded misery for residents in Gaza over the past year, with salaries to the territory cut.

“Hamas is playing with fire,” said Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, an Israeli army spokesman. “It knows exactly what it is doing. It is trying to turn the area along the border into a battle zone. It is enticing civilians to carry out terrorist acts to destroy the fence.”

Source: Washington Post

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