Israel says protest turnout lower this week


Gaza's Health Ministry said more than 1,300 Palestinians have been wounded by live fire in the past two weeks.

His death brings to 34 the number of Palestinians martyred in two weeks of Return protests and clashes along Gaza's border with "Israel".

Israeli troops shot and wounded 30 Palestinians during a large protest on the Gaza-Israel border yesterday in which demonstrators hurled stones and burning tyres near the frontier fence, Palestinian medics said.

Health officials in Gaza said 363 people were injured by live ammunition and tear gas inhalation, although they did not provide a breakdown.

The marches have been organized by Gaza's Hamas rulers, but large turnouts on two preceding Fridays were also driven by desperation among the territory's 2 million residents who have been buckling under a crippling border closure by Israel and Egypt since 2007. The IDF said several attempts to "harm or breach the security infrastructure" along the border had taken place, including the detonation of an explosive device near the disused crossing point at Karni, and the throwing of firebombs.

Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border, and to stop any of the protesters getting across the fence.

Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, torching tires and burning large Israeli flags, USA flags, as well as posters of Israel's prime minister and defense minister. It has said that soldiers fire live bullets as a last resort, in a "precise and measured manner".

The organisers of the Great Return March say the protests are a non-partisan and peaceful call for global support, yet erroneous media reports have characterised the demonstrators as "rioters" directly "clashing" with Israeli forces.

Rights groups say the Israeli military's open-fire regulations are unlawful because soldiers can use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

At five spots along the frontier, tent complexes have been erected hundreds of metres from the border where families have gathered.

Palestinians are streaming to tent camps along Gaza's border with Israel for the third of what are to be weekly mass protests until mid-May. One man threw a burning tire into the fence, while another was seen walking nearby with the help of a crutch. While Hamas in Gaza quickly voiced support for the protests, the relative tardiness with which its main rival Fatah expressed its encouragement from the West Bank highlighted the underlying Palestinian political divide.

Palestinian organizers have called the series of protests the "Great March of Return" beginning on Land Day, March 30, and continuing until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the "Nakba" - or the "catastrophe" - when 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and off their land by Israeli forces in 1948. Seven were killed in other circumstances, including six militants allegedly in an apparent bid to carry out attacks on Israeli troops. Rights groups say military's open-fire orders are unlawful.