Israeli troops fired live rounds and tear gas at Palestinians thronging the Gaza-Israel border on Friday as part of a long-running protest, injuring about 350 people.
Medics said around 50 people were shot and wounded with live fire, three of them critically, and 300 more treated for gas inhalation and other injuries along the Gaza side of the 25-mile (40-km) border fence, where Palestinians set up tent encampments on March 30 for what they call “The Great March of Return”.
Youths rolled burning tires to within 300 meters (yards) of the fence, trying to use the smoke as cover for throwing stones across it while eluding Israeli snipers. Army gunfire has killed at least 43 Palestinians on the frontier over the last month.
Protesters said they used slingshots to down two small Israeli observation drones. The army confirmed the drone losses.
Facing international censure over its use of live fire in the protests, Israel says it is protecting its border and takes such action only when protesters, some hurling firebombs and trying to plant explosives, approach too closely.
On Friday, troops faced “approximately 7,000 Palestinians participating in riots in five locations along the Gaza Strip border,” a military spokesman said, adding that one group had tried to breach the fence and enter Israeli territory.
As Israel celebrates its 70th birthday, Palestinians mourn what they call the “Nakba” (Catastrophe) of their people’s mass dispossession during the conflict that broke out in 1948.
Two-thirds of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza are war refugees or their descendants. The protests have seen thousands gather – in greater numbers on Fridays – to demand access to their families’ lost homes or lands, now in Israel.