One Palestinian protester was killed Friday morning near the Erez crossing in the Gaza Strip as thousands demonstrated in Israel and neighboring states on Land Day, an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they term discriminatory Israeli land policies.
Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said Israeli forces shot and killed Mahmoud Zaqout, 21, and critically wounded another man as they were approaching the Israel-Gaza border during a demonstration of a few thousand people organized by the territory’s Hamas rulers.
The Israeli military said troops fired warning shots before shooting directly at Zaqout, in accordance with the army’s rules of engagement.
The military said it responded to protesters with tear gas in addition to gunfire. Abu Salmia said an additional 37 protesters throughout Gaza were lightly injured, while the Israeli military put the number at about 29.
Fears of major violence during Land Day protests in and around Israel began to dissipate on Friday evening, although there were clashes north of Jerusalem and on the Gaza border. Large marches planned towards Israel’s borders from neighboring countries had not materialized by evening.
Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti was injured during clashes at the Qalandiya checkpoint early on Friday afternoon. Initial reports said he was struck on the head by a tear gas canister. Some later reports suggested he was injured in a brawl with fellow protesters.
Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem, was the largest flashpoint of a mostly calm Land Day, although a central rally took place Friday afternoon in Dir Hana, in the Galilee region. It was attended by thousands of demonstrators, among them leading Arab MKs. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, over a dozen protesters were arrested for disrupting the peace.
Barghouti, a candidate for the Palestinian presidency in the past and the head of the PA parliament, was rushed to a hospital in Ramallah. Palestinian sources report some 30 people were injured at the checkpoint in late morning and afternoon.
Thousands of police were deployed around the country in a bid to keep the marches from getting out of hand. Aside from the clashes near the Qalandiya checkpoint, and a clash on the Gaza border, the day was mostly calm.
Notably, worshipers leaving Friday prayers at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem dispersed without major incident.
A couple of hundred demonstrators protested near the Damascus Gate of the Old City. After prayers, some 250 people tried to march and were dispersed by police, with stun grenades and tear gas.
One person was seen being evacuated by the Red Crescent on a stretcher.
Police arrested 14 people in the area for throwing stones.
“In [decades] of the peace process, we got nothing,” said Amar Zorba, 29, from East Jerusalem. “We are here to protest for our rights and against the occupation.”
Palestinians in the Qalandiya refugee camp marched toward the checkpoint into Jerusalem throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops and burning tires once prayers ended a little before 1 p.m. Troops fired tear gas at the demonstrators to try and disperse them.
There were also reports of clashes in Bethlehem, with Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones at Israeli troops. There were no reports of injuries.
Police had expected the protests to hit full force after prayers around 1:15 p.m., with the Temple Mount and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as potential flashpoints.
About a dozen Palestinians attempted to reach the Erez crossing into Gaza, with troops shooting toward them. There were Palestinian reports of seven injuries, with Israeli troops said to have fired towards people who were close to border security areas.
There were also reports of injuries at the Karni crossing in Gaza
Some 200 people marched in the Lower Galilee villages of Kafr Kanna, Sakhnin, Taibe and Araba, Ynet news reported.
Demonstrations had been expected on the country’s northern border as part of the Global March to Jerusalem, which has called on protesters from around the world to “besiege” the country.
But while thousands of people gathered in Lebanon and Jordan to
protest against Israel, security forces kept them from marching to the Israeli border. Egyptian forces also intervened to prevent major demonstrations.
Lebanese security forces increased security around Beaufort Castle, an Israeli stronghold before the country pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000, some 10 kilometers from the border with Israel. Marchers gathered there unfurled large Iranian and Turkish flags and heard speeches condemning Israel.
Some 1,200 police were deployed on the Israeli side of the northern border to keep protesters in Syria and Lebanon from reaching the fence. But the preparations proved unnecessary.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz spent his morning touring defenses on the borders in the north as well as in the West Bank, according to Israel Radio.
The Lebanese Army took extra precautions aimed at keeping the protests peaceful, as did the United Nation Interim Force in Lebanon, also known as UNIFIL, which patrols southern Lebanon, according to Lebanese news source Naharnet.
Hezbollah and Fatah made 80-90 buses available to protesters from Palestinian refugee camps around the Lebanon.
The Global March’s organizers had predicted that 2 million participants would converge on Israel’s borders to join the protests after Friday prayers.
Israeli officials were braced for tens of thousands, and military sources said the army and policy had been instructed to act with maximal restraint while doing what was necessary to protect the country’s borders and citizens.
Israeli forces went on high alert in anticipation of the mass demonstrations Friday, sealing off swaths of territory and tightening restrictions on entering the Temple Mount.
The Land Day rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies.
Similar demonstrations on the Syrian and Lebanese borders turned deadly last year.
Israel’s military closed off the West Bank to all but humanitarian emergencies, saying the move was “in accordance with security assessments.”
Matti Friedman contributed to this report.