UPDATE | 1 Palestinian killed, 163 wounded by Israeli fire
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians, some burning Israeli flags and torching tires, staged a mass protest on Gaza's sealed border with Israel for a third consecutive Friday, as part of a pressure campaign to break a decade-old blockade of their territory.
Israeli live fire from across the border fence killed a 28-year-old Palestinian man and wounded at least 163, Gaza health officials said. The death brought to 28 the number of protesters killed in two weeks, with hundreds wounded by Israeli fire since March 30.
The marches have been organized by Gaza's Hamas rulers, but large turnouts on two preceding Fridays were also driven by desperation among the territory's 2 million residents who have been buckling under a crippling border closure by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
"We want to live like everyone else in the world," said 37-year-old construction worker Omar Hamada, an unemployed father of eight. "We came here so the world can see us and know that life here is miserable, and that there should be a solution."
Today, the turnout seemed to be significantly lower than on previous Fridays – some 10,000 protesters according to the Israeli military – raising questions about the organizers' goal of keeping the mass marches going until mid-May. By nightfall, the casualty toll was also lower than in previous rallies.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians staged a mass protest along Gaza's sealed border with Israel today, some burning large Israeli flags and torching tires while soldiers fired tear gas and live bullets from across the border fence.
Gaza health officials said 363 people were wounded by Israeli fire or treated for tear gas inhalation in the third large-scale protest in as many consecutive Fridays. Such weekly demonstrations are to continue to mid-May, keeping tensions high along the volatile border.
The health officials did not provide a breakdown of types of injuries, but said among those hurt today was a Gaza journalist who was in serious condition with a bullet wound in the abdomen. Since late March, 27 Palestinians, including a journalist, have been killed and hundreds wounded by army fire in such rallies.
Rights groups have described the Israeli military's open-fire regulations as unlawful, saying they permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters. Israel has accused Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers of using the protests as a cover for attacks and says snipers only target the main "instigators."
Today, most of the demonstrators assembled in five tent camps located several hundred yards from the border fence. Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, torching tires and burning large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel's prime minister and defense minister. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky.
Israeli forces fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and live rounds. The military said that demonstrators hurled an explosive device and several fire bombs near the fence in what it said was an apparent attempt to damage it.
Footage distributed by the military showed an area of the fence made up of several layers of barbed wire coils. Protesters stuck a Palestinian flag into the fence and affixed a rope, using it to tug at the coils. One man threw a burning tire into the fence, while another was seen walking nearby with the help of a crutch.