Middle East

Palestinians torch tires to block Israeli snipers on the Gaza border

Palestinians protested along the buffer zone in Gaza for the second week of “March of Return” demonstrations, as young men set stacks of tires on fire to block Israeli army snipers at the border fence.

Throughout the week, Palestinians began stocking rubber tires along the border area. They planned to light them on fire in hopes that the smoke would blind Israeli army snipers, one resident explained.

At least nine people, including a 16-year-old, were shot and killed by Israeli forces, and another 491 people were injured, the Gaza health ministry said. The Palestinian Red Crescent said it treated 81 people, including 36 injured by live fire.

Among those killed was Yaser Murtaja, a photographer for Gaza-based Ain Media agency.

AFP reported that protesters burned tires and threw stones at Israeli forces across the fence. The soldiers responded with tear gas and live fire, according to the reports.

At least 10 people protesting in Rafah were shot, said Hassan Shoaap, who was at the border.

Protesters planned to demonstrate near the border fence again this week after tens of thousands turned out for the first day. Organizers have planned a 45-day protest leading up to May 15 – Nakba Day, the date Palestinians mark their displacement from their lands in what is now Israel. The protests also fall around the ceremonial opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14.

In a statement on Twitter, the Israel Defense Forces said hundreds of Palestinians were rioting in five locations “along the Gaza-Israel border.” IDF troops responded with “riot dispersal means and fire in accordance with the rules of engagement.”

“The IDF will not allow any breach of security infrastructure or the security fence, which protects Israeli civilians. The IDF will act against those who are involved in these attacks,” the spokesperson said.

The army said later that “several attempts have been made to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of the smokescreen created by the burning tires that the rioters ignited.”

Earlier on Friday, the number of people killed as a result of last week’s protests rose to 19 after a 30-year-old man, Tha’er Rabaa, died. He was shot by Israeli forces last week during the first day of demonstrations. A 34-year-old man, Shadi Hamdan al-Kashef, died on Thursday from a gunshot wound to the head sustained in the protest. Israeli forces killed 16 people during the demonstrations, making last Friday the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war.

Two other Palestinian men have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza this week. One man was killed in a drone strike in Gaza on Wednesday, and another, 23-year-old Mujahid al-Khodari, was shot and killed near the security zone on Thursday.

Seventy percent of the 1.9 million people in Gaza are refugees or the descendents of people expelled from their homes after the state of Israel was established. The demonstration demands the right of return for refugees.

The turnout this week was expected to be less than last week, when some 40,000 people protested across Gaza.

A group of young men in Gaza prepare to light tires on fire ahead of a protest
A group of young men in Gaza prepare to light tires on fire ahead of a protest on Friday, April 6, 2018. Image: Social media/Used with permission

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israeli forces would again be authorized to open fire on protesters who approach the security fence.

“If there are provocations, there will be a reaction of the harshest kind like last week,” Lieberman told public radio this week. “We do not intend to change the rules of engagement.”

Lieberman said most of those killed last week were members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, designated terrorist organizations in Israel. Hamas has claimed six of the victims as its members.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem launched a campaign launched this week called “Sorry Commander, I cannot shoot” that urges Israeli Defense Forces soldiers not to obey orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators.

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