Israeli airstrike on Gaza border kills Palestinian


JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza early on Thursday killed a Palestinian, while a second man died from wounds sustained in last week’s mass protest along the Gaza-Israel border, officials said.

The fatalities bring to 21 the number of people killed in confrontations in the volatile area over the past week.

A new round of protests along the border is expected on Friday, raising the prospect of further bloodshed.

The protest march last week, largely organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, had been billed as the first of several weeks of intermittent protests against a stifling decade-old Israeli blockade.

Hamas leaders have portrayed the final protest, set for May 15, as the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, implying they would try to enter Israeli territory. But they have stopped short of specifically threatening a mass breach of the border fence.

The Israeli military has said it will not allow anyone to breach the border fence and has beefed up forces in the area, with snipers and other special units. The military was on high alert ahead of Friday.

Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s Mideast envoy, urged both sides to show caution on Friday.

“Israeli forces should exercise maximum restraint and Palestinians should avoid friction at the Gaza fence,” he said.

“Demonstrations and protests must be allowed to proceed in a peaceful manner,” he added. “Civilians, particularly children, must not be intentionally put in danger or targeted in any way.”

In the latest violence, the military said an aircraft had targeted an “armed terrorist adjacent to the security fence” in northern Gaza early in the morning. The Gaza Health Ministry confirmed the man’s death but did not immediately release his identity.

It also confirmed the death of a man who was wounded in last Friday’s protests. Hundreds more were wounded by live fire last week, according to Palestinian health officials. Of the 21 dead so far, 15 were killed during border protests, and videos and witness accounts indicate that most were not armed or carrying out attacks at the moment they were killed.

Israel has defended its actions by saying the marches are planned by the militant Islamic Hamas group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. It says the border fence was attacked with burning tires, stones and firebombs, and in one case, by a pair of gunmen. It says its snipers carefully targeted only the main “instigators,” and accuses Hamas of using the crowds as cover to stage attacks.

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