Dozens of Palestinians were wounded by gunfire on Friday as thousands demonstrated on the Gaza border for a sixth week of protests that have seen nearly 50 people killed by Israeli forces.
Medics treated 431 demonstrators with various injuries, including 98 wounded by live fire and rubber bullets, the Gaza health ministry said.
Black smoke billowed over a protest camp east of Gaza City where Palestinians burned tyres and flew kites, at least one carrying a Molotov cocktail intended on setting fire to nearby Israeli fields.
After advancing toward the border fence, protesters would retreat when the Israeli army fired tear gas. A military spokeswoman said that some of the protesters threw stones at the Israeli forces.
The army also said there was an attempt to “sabotage the security fence and to infiltrate into Israel”. It said the attempt was “thwarted” when soldiers arrived at the scene and the Palestinians involved returned to the Gaza Strip.
Two IDF drones crash in Gaza Strip, 350 Palestinians wounded in clashes https://t.co/wMfhBAIi41
— The Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post) May 4, 2018
Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30, and hundreds of others have been wounded by gunfire.
Crowds were smaller on Friday than in previous weeks, with Palestinians saying they expect a major protest on May 14, when the United States will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israel says its soldiers only open fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.
‘I’m Not Afraid’
Shifa Abu Qadous, 28, whose family was originally from Jaffa, part of Tel Aviv, was bringing water to protesters near the border fence.
Wearing a headscarf and a dust-mask hanging around her neck, she said she came to the protests every week.
“I’m not afraid, there’s only one death,” she said. “Today or tomorrow or after that we will return to our homes.”
In central Gaza, protesters gathered east of the Bureij refugee camp.
Youths met behind a series of bunkers reinforced with sandbags in the area leading up to the border with Israel, while older demonstrators remained further back at protest tents.
Early in the day, a group of Palestinian youths threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers, who had taken up position some 50 metres (yards) away on the other side of the fence.
A Guy Fawkes mask strapped to his belt and a Palestinian flag around his neck, Abdullah Issa, 22, said they hoped to send dozens of kites with Molotov cocktails over the fence.
“We will put Molotov cocktails on the Israeli farms,” Issa said. “They have no solution for the kites.”
Israeli media have in recent days reported significant damage to farms due to kite-flown Molotov cocktails, though the devices face difficult odds in making it across the fence while still lit.
The Israeli army estimated that 7,000 Palestinians took part in this Friday’s demonstrations in five main locations along the border fence.
During the events, two army drones crashed in the Gaza Strip.
“The matter is being looked into,” a statement from the army said.
Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the weekly protests as a cover to carry out violence.
No Israelis have been hurt and Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no danger to soldiers.
The military has faced international criticism over its use of live fire, with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and the European Union calling for an independent investigation, rejected by Israel.
Demonstrators are demanding the right to return to their homes seized by Israel in 1948, which Israel argues would effectively spell the end of their country.
The protests are due to continue until mid-May, when the US plans to move its embassy.
The move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.