Gaza, March 31 : At least 17 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,400 injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers during protests at the Gaza border, Palestinian representative to the UN Riyad Mansour said.
Israeli officials estimated tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters marched in Gaza on Friday towards the border fence between Israel and Gaza during a protest called the “Great March of Return”.
The march quickly turned bloody as Palestinian protesters and Israeli military clashed along the fence, CNN reported on Saturday.
The aim of the protest was to assert what Palestinians regard as their “right to return” to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli authorities bore “full responsibility” for the deaths and declared Saturday as a day of mourning. Thousands of people were attending the funerals.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an independent inquiry into the deaths and the UN Security Council condemned the violence after an emergency session. UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the Council: “Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law.”
The Palestinian leadership also accused the US of obstructing a UN resolution to denounce the Israeli aggression.
“The US provided a cover for Israel to continue its aggression on the Palestinian people and encourage it to defy international legitimacy resolutions that aim at ending the occupation,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson of the Palestinian President said.
The march coincided with Palestinian Land Day, an annual occasion marking Palestinians’ protest against Israel’s confiscation of their land. The protest will end on May 15.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said thousands of Palestinians were “rioting throughout the Gaza Strip, rolling burning tires and hurling stones at the security fence and at IDF troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”
Confrontations escalated as Israeli fighter jets targeted three Hamas sites after an IDF position was shot at in northern Gaza, according to an IDF statement. Tank fire also targeted the three sites, following an exchange of fire.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the large crowds at the protests reflected the determination and will of the Palestinian people for the right of return, and to “break the siege” of Gaza.
Prior to Friday’s protest, organizers said the march would be non-violent, but they warned of possible military fire from Israeli forces.
In a statement, the IDF blamed Hamas for “all events and incidents taking place in today’s protests”.