Some 1,500 people took part in a demonstration in the Israeli-Arab town of Sakhnin Saturday in solidarity with the people of the Gaza Strip.
Protesters included Arab Knesset members as well as journalists, the Ynet new site reported. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and held pictures of journalist Yasser Murtaja, who was shot and killed during Friday’s “March of Return” in the Strip. Murtaja reportedly died from a gunshot wound he sustained while filming in an area engulfed in thick black smoke caused by protesters setting tires on fire.
Five other Palestinian journalists wearing identifying clothing were reportedly shot during the violent demonstration, as tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along the Gaza border. Protesters burned tires and threw firebombs, explosives, and rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases live fire.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Hamas organizers were trying to use protesters as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel.” Conricus said snipers were used “sparingly” and only against those that posed a “significant threat.”
Arab journalist Wadia Awawdeh said the media casualties were proof that the IDF was acting in an unlawful manner on the border. He called on his “Israeli colleagues to raise their voices and protest the harm to their Palestinian colleagues…It is a human, moral, and ethical obligation.”
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A female protester who did not give her name said the Israeli army’s conduct “is unacceptable and inhumane. What do they expect of a people who have been under blockade for more than nine years, without work or livelihood, without the option of leaving, traveling, living their lives? With power cuts every few hours, in the heat and in the cold.”
Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade, which it says is necessary to prevent Hamas, which is regarded as a terror group by Israel and much of the West and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, from smuggling in weapons and material used for digging tunnels into Israel. Egypt also maintains the blockade.
Gaza, a tiny strip of land sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, has seen conditions steadily deteriorate since Hamas overran the territory in 2007 and took control from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority.
Israel and Egypt clamped the blockade in an attempt to weaken Hamas, and Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to regain control, has stepped up pressure on Hamas by cutting salaries of civil servants and limiting electricity deliveries.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said nine people were killed and hundreds were wounded on Friday, including 293 by live fire. It said 25 of those wounded were in serious condition. Among those hurt were 12 women and 48 minors, the ministry added.
The IDF, which did not confirm the figures, said it thwarted multiple efforts to breach the border fence — and that it used live fire to do so in some instances — as well as attempts to activate bombs against the troops under the cover of smoke.
Friday’s demonstration was the second of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” protests which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests and said it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs.
Israel’s defense minister has warned that protesters approaching the border fence endanger their lives, drawing condemnation from rights groups that said such seemingly broad open-fire rules are unlawful.
AP contributed to this report.