Gaza, March 30 (IANS) At least seven Palestinians were killed and over 500 injured in violent clashes between hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers during a march close to the border between Gaza Strip and Israel on Friday.
The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the death toll and according to reports 550 Palestinians were injured as they launched a six-week protest dubbed the “Great March of Return” amid Israeli Army presence on the borderline area with the Gaza Strip, the BBC reported.
Eyewitnesses said the Israeli Army sent more forces, including armoured vehicles, snipers, sniffer dogs and soldiers equipped with teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to prevent the Palestinians from reaching the fence of the borders.
Thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, arrived by buses at six different areas in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip to join the march.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra told reporters that early in the day, Israeli soldiers targeted two farmers close to the border with the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, killing a 27-year-old farmer and wounding another. Witnesses said the two men were hit by tank fire while collecting parsley in a field.
Later, six other Palestinian demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli troops near the border between eastern Gaza Strip and Israel during violent confrontations, he said.
March 30 marks Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over land confiscation in 1976.
Palestinians erected five main camp areas along the Israel border for the protest, from Erez in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border in the south. The protest is scheduled to end on May 15.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said there were about 17,000 Palestinians in five locations along the border fence.
The IDF said troops were “firing towards the main instigators” to break up rioting that included the burning of tyres and the throwing of Molotov cocktails and stones at the fence.
Hamas, the militant group which dominates the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of trying to intimidate Palestinians.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the protest was a “deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation with Israel” and that “responsibility for any clashes lies solely with Hamas and other participating Palestinian organisations”.
Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee, said the Israeli government had been preparing to attack unarmed Palestinians during their march on the Palestinian Land Day.