GAZA, April 27 — Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at Palestinians gathered for a protest at the Gaza-Israel border today, hours after the United Nations human rights chief criticised Israel for using “excessive force” against demonstrators there in recent weeks.
Around 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire at the border fence since a planned six-week protest began there on March 30, with no reports of Israeli casualties. The number of protesters usually swells to several thousands after Friday prayers.
Palestinian medical officials said at least three youths were wounded by Israeli fire near tent camps along the Gaza-Israel border, as some demonstrators hurled stones and rolled burning tyres toward the fence.
In a statement released earlier today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called the loss of life was “deplorable” and that a “staggering number of injuries” had been caused by live ammunition.
Israel’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment but the government has consistently said that it is protecting its borders and that its troops are following rules of engagement.
Named the ‘Great March of Return’, the protest action revives a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
It has seen tent encampments spring up at several locations near the Israeli-imposed restricted zone along the 40km border fence and is scheduled to culminate on May 15, when Palestinians mark Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, commemorating their displacement 70 years ago.
More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. — Reuters