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Gaza witnesses bloodiest day as 15 Palestinians shot dead

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 31 March 2018, 23:45 IST
Clashes erupted as thousands of Gazans marched near the Israeli border in a major protest dubbed "The Great March of Return.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinians, marching towards Israel after a six-week campaign of peaceful protests in Gaza, woke up to chaos and bloodshed on Friday morning. 

At least 15 Palestinians were gunned down and hundreds injured by Israeli soldiers as former marched towards the edges of their 140-square-mile territory in the Gaza strip to face off against the Israeli military.

The Hamas militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, and other Palestinian factions had called for a peaceful "March of Return" for Land Day, which marks the Israel government's expropriation of Arab-owned land in 1976.

Live ammunition and tear gas were used to stop the Palestinians from breaking through the border fence, said the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza. 

According to Israeli military estimates, about 30,000 Palestinian demonstrators had gathered at several points along the border fence. While many simply held Palestinian flags, some resorted to hurling stones at the Israeli soldiers. 

The Israeli military also released videos of the Gazans hurling Molotov cocktails, burning tires and attempting to "infiltrate" the Israeli territory. It was later reported that firebombs were also thrown at the soldiers across the order. 

Reportedly, Israel had cautioned that it would use live ammunition if anyone came within 300 meters of the border fence. But some Gazans said they did not care if they died.

“I don’t want this life,” said 22-year-old Yahya Abu Assar. "I want to be shot.” 

It was the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas. In 2007 Hamas took control of Gaza and ever since Israel has kept a tight control on the movement of goods and people across the border. The border with Egypt has also remained tightly closed.

Declaring the area surrounding the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, the Israeli military said it was “responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.” Israeli forces fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

With the idea to protest Israel’s more than decade-long blockade of Gaza and highlight Palestinian demands for a right of return to the lands that became Israel 70 years ago, The Palestinian organizers had called for peaceful protests, referred to as the Great March of Return or the March of the Million.


At least 15 Palestinians were gunned down and hundreds injured by Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border

About 20,000 demonstrators - men, women and children included - had come to the tent encampments at the Gaza Strip. Palestinians in the sealed-off Gaza Strip - 99 percent of whom are denied permission to leave - say life is becoming unlivable. 

A majority of Gaza’s 2 million residents are refugees of the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s creation, or their descendants.

The United Nations has alerted that Gaza is on the brink of an economic crisis and a complete breakdown of services. The decision by the Trump administration to cut aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides services for Palestinian, came as a blow to the Palestinians.

The protest came at a particularly charged time, as Jews prepared for the start of Passover on Friday, and as Palestinians observed Land Day. 

The day commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli security forces shot and killed six Arab citizens of Israel during protests over the state’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel.

First published: 31 March 2018, 23:42 IST