Israel vows tough response to Gaza protests

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel's defense minister said today the military will not change its tough response to Hamas-led mass protests near Gaza's border with Israel, warning those who approach the border are putting their lives at risk.

Avigdor Lieberman spoke near Gaza, where 18 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire Friday, the first day of what Hamas says will be six weeks of intermittent border protests against a stifling blockade of the territory.

Today, a 25-year-old Gaza man was killed by Israeli fire as he threw stones in the area of the border fence, Gaza's Health Ministry said.

Lieberman's comments raised the possibility of more bloodshed Friday, when another mass protest is expected.

The Palestinians' ambassador at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, appealed to the U.N. Security Council for immediate international protection for Palestinian civilians, especially in Gaza. He charged in a letter to the council that Israel has adopted "a shoot-to-kill policy" during what he called peaceful protests.

Mansour strongly backed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for an independent investigation of the killings and accused Israel of "intentionally, grossly and systematically" violating its legal obligation to protect civilians.

The international group Human Rights Watch accused Lieberman and other senior Israeli officials Tuesday of unlawfully calling for the use of live fire against Palestinian protesters who posed no imminent threat to life.

Last Friday, thousands of Palestinians marched near the border fence between Israel and Gaza, many gathering around tent encampments set up several hundred yards from the frontier.

Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, hurling firebombs or burning tires. Israeli troops were lined up on the other side of the fence, including snipers perched on high earth embankments overlooking Gaza.

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