Israeli troops killed four Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others on Friday with live fire or tear gas used against protesters at the Gaza border, medics said, while Israel said militants had attacked its forces with guns and grenades.
Organizers linked the protests to annual “Jerusalem Day” events in Iran, which like Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists preaches Israel’s destruction and was incensed by the U.S. recognition in December of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
“There is no such state called Israel that could have a capital called Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
He said the Gaza demonstrations, launched on March 30, would continue until Palestinians achieve their demand for a right of return to ancestral lands lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its creation.
Israel, with U.S. support, has described the protests as a ploy by Hamas to breach its border, and says that its lethal tactics have been necessary to prevent that. At least 124 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire, medics say.
On Friday the army said in a statement it had repelled around 10,000 Palestinians who converged on five points of the border. Some of them threw rocks and burned tyres.
At one location, at least two Palestinians fired guns at an army post, while others threw grenades or used helium balloons and kites to fly explosives over the border, the army said.
There have been no Israeli casualties from the more than two months of confrontations along the Gaza border. But Israel has lost swathes of farmland and forests on its side of the border to blazes set by coal- or fuel-laden Palestinian kites.
Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, described Gaza protesters on Twitter as “hateful morons” and “Hamas Jugend”, the latter a play on “Hitler Youth” in German.
The Palestinians killed on Friday were three adult men and a 15-year-old boy, medics said. Of 618 people wounded, 120 were from live fire, they said.
Among those wounded by gunfire was an Agence France-Presse photographer and a 23-year-old man who was on life support after a tear gas canister penetrated his face, medics said.
Israel has long refused to admit Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war or their millions of descendants, saying they belong in a future Palestinian state. Statehood talks have been frozen since 2014.
Hamas seized Gaza from Western-backed Palestinian authorities in 2007 and has fought three wars with Israel there. Two million Palestinians have sunk into poverty as Israel and Egypt, citing security needs, clamped down on Gaza’s borders.
“We are not asking for the moon,” said Amer Abu Khalaf, a 20-year-old business administration student who took part in Friday’s protest, saying it aimed to “break the siege and have the world recognize our right to return”.