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Violence erupts afresh at Israel-Gaza border as protest enters third week

The protests since March 30 have posed a challenge to Israel, which has dismissed criticism of its use of live fire, saying its rules of engagement are necessary and will not change

AFP/PTI  |  Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) 

Gaza Israel border
Israeli soldiers take position as Palestinians protest on the Israel Gaza Strip Border | Photo: AP/PTI

Clashes erupted today as thousands gathered for a third consecutive Friday of mass protests along Gaza's border with after violence in which Israeli forces have killed 33 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.

Limited clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers took place in at least two areas along the border, AFP reporters said, with larger protests expected after Friday Muslim prayers.

At least eight Palestinians were wounded, the health ministry in said, with one shot in the head.

Most were injured east of City, but two were hurt in clashes near Al-Bureij in central Many protesters left for midday prayers but larger numbers are expected to gather in five spots along the border on Friday afternoon.

In northern Gaza, a large Israeli flag was burned that had earlier been set on the ground for protesters to walk over.

The protests since March 30 have posed a challenge to Israel, which has dismissed criticism of its use of live fire, saying its rules of engagement are necessary and will not change.

Organisers were calling demonstrators to burn Israeli flags and raise Palestinian ones.

In the northern Gaza Strip, Sumaya Abu Awad, 36, attended the protest with her three daughters and son.

"I am from the village of and it is my right to return to it," she said, referring to a village north of Gaza destroyed in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.

"I am not afraid of death because there is no life in Gaza already." Last week, protesters burned mounds of tyres, sending plumes of smoke into the air in the border area. Israeli soldiers used large fans in a bid to push the smoke away.

The protests, planned to last six weeks, are calling for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes that are now inside -- which Israelis say essentially amounts to calling for the country's destruction.

The first two Fridays -- with far less on intervening days -- saw tens of thousands gather near the border with at five locations.

Smaller numbers approached the fence, throwing stones and rolling burning tyres toward soldiers taking up positions on the other side

Gaza Israel border
Palestinian protesters cover their faces from teargas fired by the Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel | Photo: AP/PTI

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

It has pledged to stop attacks, damage to the fence and infiltration bids, and says there have been attempts at all three. But Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, and UN and the have called for an independent investigation.

The dead from last Friday included a journalist, Yasser Murtaja, who witnesses said was wearing a press vest at the time he was shot. Israel claimed he was a paid member of Hamas, but produced no evidence. The company co-founded had been vetted for funding, while an journalists federation said he was harassed and beaten by police in 2015.

Rights groups have strongly criticised Israeli forces while pointing to unverified videos that have spread online of Gazans appearing to be shot, including one seeming to show a Palestinian targeted as he ran away from the fence while holding a tyre.

officials have said in recent days they want this week's protest to see less bloodshed and hope to keep momentum building for May 14, when the is expected to move its from to

The embassy move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see the Israel-annexed eastern sector of as the capital of their future state. Organisers also again said they want the protest to be peaceful this week, but it is unclear to what extent they or even remain in control.

The official end date of the protests is May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba, or "catastrophe," commemorating the more than 700,000 who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for more than 10 years, while its border with has also been largely closed in recent years. In a rare move, opened its crossing with Gaza yesterday and it will remain open until Saturday.

Israeli have said Egypt, one of only two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state, had been negotiating with Hamas to seek to calm the crisis, but there has been no confirmation.

First Published: Fri, April 13 2018. 20:57 IST