Clashes are not limited to Gaza as Israeli forces clash with Palestinian demonstrators in protests marking Land Day in Hebron and near Ramallah, in the West Bank. Photo: Israeli border policemen take up position opposite Palestinian demonstrators near Ramallah, March 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Army uses live fire, rubber bullets to keep back mobs of Palestinians who throw rocks, firebombs at Israeli troops during 'March of Return' demonstration
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that four men were killed during the mass protests along the border, bringing the toll death toll on Friday to four. Some 370 were injured as of 2:30 p.m., with most of the injuries being caused by rubber bullets and tear gas. A smaller number were hit by live fire.
The army confirmed that soldiers had shot at “main instigators.” It said some protesters were lighting tires on fire and throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at IDF troops on the other side of the border.
The military maintained that it would not allow Palestinian protesters to “violate Israel’s sovereignty” by crossing the security fence.
The main sites for protests in Gaza were Rafah and Khan Younis in the south, el-Bureij and Gaza City in the center, and Jabalya in the northern portion of the coastal enclave.
Earlier Friday morning, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli tank fire near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry said. Witnesses said he was working his land near the border when the shells hit, but Hadashot news reported that the army suspected the man had been trying to place an improvised explosive device near the security fence.
The first protest kicked off on Friday, when Palestinians worldwide mark Land Day, which commemorates the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover festival.
Friday’s demonstrations mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all of Palestine, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech at the scene of the mass protests in the Gaza Strip.
“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,” he said. Haniyeh added that the March of Return was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump to the effect that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem and “Palestine.”
Khaled al-Batsh, the leader of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group, which is also among the planners of the protest, said tents would be located 500 meters from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel.
Batsh said protesters were calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that is now inside Israel. “Seventy years ago we left and today we have decided to return to our country,” he told AFP.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.
The Times of Israel is liveblogging Friday’s developments as they unfold.