Fresh clashes erupt along Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians march again

Fresh clashes erupt along Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians march again
Tsafria Abayov/AP via CNN
Israeli soldiers are seen as Palestinians protest at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday.

At least seven people were killed Friday as confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces along the Israel-Gaza border turned violent, Palestinian health officials in Gaza said.

Israeli troops fired live rounds against Palestinians along the border fence, the Israeli military said, a week after violence led to the bloodiest day in Gaza since 2014.

Seven people, including a teenager, were shot and killed in eastern Gaza on Friday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said in a statement.

More than 1,000 people were injured, at least 25 seriously, the ministry said. Dozens of the injured were treated near the border fence by Red Crescent field medics. Twelve women and 48 children were among the injured, the ministry said.

Tensions had been building on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border ahead of what some Palestinians alternately dubbed “Friday of Fire” or “Friday of Tires,” the second in a sequence of “March of Return” actions planned through mid-May.

The goal of the “March of Return” protests, Palestinians say, is to cross the border fence and return to their lands, which became part of Israel seven decades ago.

Ahead of Friday’s march, Palestinians gathered thousands of tires to be set on fire on the Gaza side of the border, with the aim of creating curtains of black smoke to obscure the sights of Israeli snipers.

Israeli troops are responding with “riot dispersal means” and live fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement” at Palestinians who “have been rioting in five locations” since Friday morning, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement said. Troops are also using water cannons to put out fires generated by burning tires.

The IDF also said several attempts were made to cross the border fence and said Palestinians also attempted to “carry out terror attacks, including hurling of explosive devices, firebombs and to damage” the fence under the cover of smoke.

It tweeted a video of what purportedly showed people attempting to cut the fence.

The Israeli military and officials have repeatedly said they will not allow any breach of the fence, and that those who do not abide by the rules of engagement will be shot.

In a briefing Thursday, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said Israel would not allow what he called “violent disturbances on the fence under the guise of a civilian march.”

Israel blames Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the violence, and warned it will strike deep inside Gaza if provoked.

Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, threatened Israel on Friday, saying Hamas will hit Israel if Israel strikes inside Gaza.

US blocks UN statement

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called Thursday for all parties to exercise restraint.

“I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties,” he said in a statement. “Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully.”

However, the United Nations Security Council on Friday failed for the second time to agree on the release of a press statement addressing the violence in Gaza.

According to two UN diplomats, the United States did not approve the draft statement, preventing it from being released. UN rules stipulate that if any permanent member of the UNSC does not approve the release of the draft press statement, then it is blocked from being issued.

CNN received a copy of the draft statement.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their grave concern at the situation at the border of Gaza for the second week in a row. The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the right to peaceful protest and expressed their sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives,” the draft press statement reads in part.

The draft press statement called for an “independent and transparent investigation” into the violence in Gaza.

The United States blocked a similar statement March 31.

The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said he was pushing for Guterres to pursue an “independent, transparent” investigation into those “responsible for killing and injuring Palestinian protesters.”

Last Friday marked Land Day, when Palestinian land was confiscated by Israel in 1976.

The day quickly turned into the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 war as Israeli forces fired upon Palestinian protesters along the fence. Thousands of Palestinians had marched to Gaza’s border with Israel.

The total death toll in Gaza violence since last Friday is 29.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for the events in Gaza, and says most of those killed are “known terror activists” from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians and human rights organizations accuse Israel of using excessive and illegal force on what they described as peaceful protesters.