Palestinian killed by IDF tank fire along Gaza fence, ahead of mass protest
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Palestinian killed by IDF tank fire along Gaza fence, ahead of mass protest

Victim reportedly suspected of trying to place explosives; incident comes as Israel girds for massive Hamas-backed 'March of Return'

A Palestinian protester hurls stones toward Israeli soldiers during a demonstration near the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian protester hurls stones toward Israeli soldiers during a demonstration near the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

A Palestinian man was killed early Friday by Israeli tank fire near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry said. The man was identified as Omar Wahid Sammour, 27, a farmer.

Witnesses said he was working his land near the border when the shells hit.

Hadashot news reported that the army suspected the man had been trying to place an improvised explosive device near the security fence.

The Gaza health ministry said a second man was injured in that incident.

The army said that the “two suspects approached the perimeter fence… and engaged in suspicious behavior on the ground alongside it. In response, an IDF unit fired at them with a tank.”

Overnight, the Israel Defense Forces said it also opened fire at two other suspects who were “tampering with the security infrastructure on the perimeter fence” along the northern Gaza Strip.

The riots came as Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the volatile border with Israel ahead of a planned six-week protest camp that was set to begin on Friday, under the gaze of wary Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian women fly kites marked with the colors of the Palestinian flag during a demonstration ahead of the Land Day, at a tent city along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

The protest is dubbed the “March of Return” and has the backing of the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers. It comes amid rising tensions as the United States prepares to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Organizers said it would be peaceful but Israeli officials are wary of a fresh flareup along the enclave’s border.

On Thursday evening, Israeli troops opened fire at a number of Palestinian rioters who tried to damage the security fence around the Gaza Strip, the army said.

According to the army, approximately 200 Palestinians took part in violent protests at four main locations along the security fence, lighting fires and throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers on the other side.

The soldiers targeted a handful of “main instigators” who were trying to pull down portions of the fence, an army spokesperson said.

Five Palestinians were shot, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said, after protesters approached the border in several places.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned on Friday that any Palestinians from Gaza approaching the security fence with Israel were putting their lives at risk.

“Those who approach the fence today are putting themselves in danger,” Liberman said in his post. “I would advise [Gazans] to go on with your lives and not engage in provocations.”

The first protest kicked off on Friday, when Palestinians worldwide mark Land Day, which commemorates the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover festival.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants march during a military drill near the border with Israel, east of the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Camping and protests in Gaza are expected to continue until mid-May, around the time the US is set to inaugurate its new embassy in Jerusalem.

Mid-May will also mark the anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

According to the United Nations, some 1.3 million of Gaza’s 1.9 million residents are refugees or their descendants.

‘Return home’

Khaled al-Batsh, the leader of the Islamic Jihad terror group, which is among the planners of the protest, said tents would be located 500 meters from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel.

Water facilities were being installed and medical teams deployed to allow people to stay for long periods.

Organizers said tens of thousands of people would attend Friday’s protest, although it was not clear how the estimate was reached.

Batsh said protesters were calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that is now inside Israel. “Seventy years ago we left and today we have decided to return to our country,” he told AFP.

But senior Hamas figure Salah Bardawil said that while protesters might breach the border, they were not planning to do so.

Hamas officials say they will monitor the area beyond the camp sites to prevent protesters going too close to the frontier, at least during the initial days of the protest.

Five main campsites have been set up, spanning the length of the coastal territory from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah in the far south, near Egypt.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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