A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest along the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel in Gaza City. Picture: Wissam Nassar/Xinhua

As thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in “The Great March of Return” on the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, Israeli soldiers used live ammunition and tear gas to prevent them from getting near the border fence.
The Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza confirmed that 16 Palestinians were killed on Friday. The ministry added that 1416 Palestinians were injured, 758 from live fire, 148 from rubber-tipped bullets, 422 from inhaling tear gas and 88 from other causes.

While the majority suffered from severe tear-gas inhalation, many more Palestinians were injured with live ammunition, some critically.

Leading up to the march, the Israeli army released a statement saying it had declared the border area along Gaza a “closed military zone”, meaning that any Palestinian who got close to the border fence could risk getting shot.

Despite the Israeli army’s claims that the protests are violent riots, Palestinian activists and leaders in the Gaza Strip have maintained that the “March of Return” was organised as a massive non-violent, weeks-long protest advocating for the return of Palestinian refugees to their original homelands in historic Palestine, now present-day Israel.

Many Palestinians gathered peacefully, picnicking and flying Palestinian flags, while some approached the fence to throw stones at the soldiers.

Leading up to Friday, the first official day of the march - which will continue until the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, in May - Palestinians set up tents along the border with Gaza, where protesters plan to stay until the Nakba anniversary.

Palestinian factions have called for protests every day until May 15, the day after the anniversary of Israel’s independence in 1948, known to Palestinians as the “Naqba” or catastrophe.

The Trump administration has chosen the anniversary for the opening of its new embassy in Jerusalem, an event that is expected to add fuel to the demonstrations.

A senior UN official told the Security Council on Friday that the situation in Gaza “might deteriorate in the coming days,” and called for civilians, particularly children, not to be targeted.

“Israel must uphold its respon- sibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law,” UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun said.

“Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the UN Security Council to help provide protection for the Palestinian people.

“I place full responsibility on the Israeli authorities for the loss of martyrs who have been killed,” he said.

The majority of Palestinians in the Gaza strip are denied permission to leave the 225 square kilometer territory which is sealed off from the outside world. Most say life has become unliveable, with only a few hours of electricity a day, and unemployment in the population of 2 million estimated to be more than 50%.

The UN has warned that Gaza is on the brink of an economic collapse and a complete breakdown in ser- vices.  

Maan News Agency