Palestinians mass in thousands for protest at Gaza-Israel border

Palestinians march to mark Land Day east of Gaza CityImage copyright

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Palestinians march to mark Land Day east of Gaza City

Palestinians in Gaza have marched in their thousands to the Israel border at the start of a six-week-long protest.

Palestinian officials say dozens have been wounded by Israeli gunfire, after earlier reporting the death of a farmer due to tank fire.

The Israeli military reported “rioting” at six places and that it was “firing towards main instigators”.

Palestinians have pitched five camps near the border for the protest, dubbed the Great March of Return.

What is the latest at the border?

Palestinian media are reporting about 7,000 people are protesting along the border.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said more than 50 people had been wounded by live fire from the Israeli side. Tear gas has also been fired.

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Map showing the position of the five protest camps. Source: Haaretz

Before the protest started, Palestinian officials said Israeli tank fire had killed 27-year-old farmer Omar Samour and injured a second man near Khan Yunis in the south.

Witnesses say the two men were collecting parsley in a field, BBC Gaza producer Rushdi Abualouf reports.

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Relatives of the dead Palestinian grieve at a hospital in southern Gaza

Hamas, the militant group that dominates the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of trying to intimidate Palestinians by killing the farmer and by urging them not to participate in the protests.

Addressing protesters, Hamas senior political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said “we will not concede a single inch of the land of Palestine”.

What have the Israelis said?

The Israeli military oversees a no-go zone along the Gaza border, citing security concerns, and has doubled its troop presence for the protest.

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Israeli security forces take position as Palestinians gather at Beit Hanoun

It fears the protest could be an attempt at a mass breach of the border.

The military said that a tank had fired at two suspects after suspicious activity near a security fence near Khan Yunis and that it was aware of the reports of the death.

The Israel Defense Forces later said troops were “firing towards the main instigators” to break up rioting.

The Israeli foreign ministry has said the protest was a “deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation with Israel” and that “responsibility for any clashes lies solely with Hamas and other participating Palestinian organisations”.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman took the unusual step of tweeting in Arabic, accusing Hamas of playing with citizens’ lives and warning people not to take part.

What is the protest about?

Palestinians have erected five main camp areas along the Israel border for the protest, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border.

The Great March of Return protests were starting on Friday, as 30 March marks Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over land confiscation in 1976.

The protest is scheduled to end on 15 May, which Palestinians call Nakba (catastrophe) and which marks the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

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