Hundreds hurt in Gaza protest
Gaza City, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops fired live rounds and tear gas as thousands of Palestinians protested near the Gaza border fence on Friday, with some demonstrators burning tires, throwing stones and flying blazing kites. At least 413 Palestinians were wounded, including 80 by live fire, Gaza health officials said.
Seven of the wounded were in serious condition, the Health Ministry said, in the latest in a series of mass protests to call attention to a decade-old blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.
The march also marked the annual “Jerusalem Day,” instituted by Iran to protest Israeli rule of the holy city. Israel and Iran have been archenemies since Tehran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In the capitals of Iran and Iraq, thousands of Shiite Muslims marked Jerusalem Day with protests, with some chanting “Death to Israel” or burning Israeli flags and effigies of President Donald Trump.
In Gaza, at least 115 Palestinians had been killed and nearly 3,800 wounded by Israeli army fire in previous protests near the border fence. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded had been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.
After Muslim prayers at noon Friday, thousands of Gaza residents streamed toward five protest tent camps that had been erected more than two months ago, each several hundred yards from the fence. From there, smaller groups walked closer to it.
In a camp east of Gaza City, activists burned tires, releasing black smoke. Others threw stones or flew kites with burning rags attached, aiming to send them over the border and set Israeli fields on fire.
Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas, including from drones, that sent protesters running for cover.
One man with a bullhorn shouted, “America is the biggest evil.”
At one point, seven activists in black-and-white striped shirts meant to resemble concentration camp uniforms from World War II approached the fence.
“We want to remind the world that the Israeli occupation is committing the same massacres that the Nazis committed,” said activist Ahmed Abu Artima.
The attempt to draw a parallel between Gaza’s suffering and the Holocaust was bound to draw angry reactions.
The mass protests have been aimed at a border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007, after the Islamic militant group Hamas overran the territory. The marchers have also pressed demands for a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million residents are descendants of refugees.
Protester Fadi Saleh said the frequent marches have helped revive sympathies in the Arab world for the Palestinians, but that more could be done.
“We need real Arab support and solidarity with our cause,” said Saleh, a student of Arabic literature who wore a medical mask against the tear gas.
Israel’s use of potentially lethal force against the protesters has drawn international criticism. Rights groups have said Israel’s open-fire rules are unlawful.
Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks and damage the fence under the guise of the protests. Hamas leaders have threatened possible mass border breaches, raising concern in Israel that communities near Gaza might be at risk.
The protests have largely been organized by Hamas and to some extent by the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group. Both have received political and financial support from Iran, but they also pursue their own agendas. Growing despair in Gaza over blockade-linked hardships, including daily power cuts and rising poverty, have driven turnout.
Israel and Egypt argue that they must maintain the blockade to contain Hamas and other militant groups, which have built up arsenals over the years, including short-range rockets. Israel and Hamas have fought three cross-border wars since 2008.
The Jerusalem Day protests are being held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The day is known in Arabic as “Al Quds Day,” a reference to the city’s historic Arabic name.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it to its capital, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel’s current government has said it will not accept a partition of the city as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The eastern sector houses major shrines revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in east Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, is built on the spot where tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The compound sits on the ruins of biblical temples and is revered by Jews as the holiest site of their religion.
In Iran’s capital of Tehran, thousands joined a Jerusalem Day march, chanting “Death to Israel” and burning a Trump effigy.
In Iraq, thousands of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen in uniform marched through the streets of the capital of Baghdad, burning an Israeli flag and carrying posters of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.