GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops fired live bullets and tear gas Friday across a border fence into Gaza where Palestinian protesters threw stones, burned tires and flew kites with burning rags attached. One protester was killed and 49 were wounded by Israeli fire, Gaza health officials said.
It was the seventh weekly protest aimed at shaking off a decade-old border blockade of Gaza, and a preview of what is expected to be a much larger border rally on Monday. On that day, protests are timed to coincide with the planned move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish a future capital.
Protester Ahmed Deifallah, 25, said that President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there “is causing the volcano to spew.”
Deifallah, who is unemployed, said he is not afraid to die. “We are used to confronting the (Israeli) occupation with our bare chests,” he said, a Palestinian flag draped around his head. “We are used to wars and no one with us but Allah.”
Gaza’s Hamas leader, Yehiyeh Sinwawr, has said he expects tens of thousands to participate on Monday. He has raised the possibility of a mass border breach, comparing protesters to a “starving tiger,” unpredictable and full of pent-up anger.
Israel has said it will prevent any border breach and has stuck to its open-fire policies, such as targeting “main instigators” and those approaching the fence, despite growing international criticism.
There are growing concerns that if Israel and Hamas dig in, a widespread border breach in coming days could lead to large numbers of casualties.
Since the Hamas-led marches began in late March, 41 Palestinian protesters have been killed by Israeli fire, including a 40-year-old man shot dead Friday, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,700 Palestinians have been shot and wounded, including 49 on Friday. Seven of the injured on Friday were in serious condition, among them a 16-year-old with a shot to the head.
Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking the border. Rights groups say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.
The protests, driven by despair among Gaza’s 2 million people, are part of a campaign to break the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza in 2007.
Monday’s inauguration of the U.S. Embassy comes five months after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that outraged Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel.
The Israeli-annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem is sought as a future Palestinian capital — at least by those supporting Hamas’ political rival, West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seeks an Islamic state in the entire historic Palestine, including what is now Israel, but has said it is ready for a long-term truce.
Another large-scale protest is planned for Tuesday, when Palestinians mark their “nakba,” or catastrophe, referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out or fled homes in what is now Israel. More than two-thirds of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees.
On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered in five tent camps set up weeks ago, each several hundred meters (yards) from the border.
From there, smaller groups moved closer to the border fence.
In an area east of Gaza City, protesters burned tires, releasing large plumes of black smoke, and threw stones. Some flew kites with burning rags attached. One of the kites was downed by a small Israeli drone.
Israeli soldiers fired live rounds and volleys of tear gas.
Witnesses said Israeli forces on the other side of the fence had added reinforcements, including cement slabs, as protective cover.
In recent weeks, soldiers have fired from behind sand berms.
Meanwhile, Gaza government officials announced that Egypt will open its border with Gaza for four days starting Saturday. Helping reinforce the Israeli blockade, Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing point, Gaza’s main gate to the outside world, closed most of the time since the Hamas takeover.
Egypt opens the crossing from time to time, mainly to allow people in special categories, including medical patients and Gaza residents studying abroad, to leave the territory or return to it. The upcoming opening was framed as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins next week.
In Jordan, dozens of Palestinians waving flags and chanting slogans joined “nakba” protests in an area near the Israeli-controlled frontier between the West Bank and the kingdom.
Many of Jordan’s residents are descendants of Palestinian refugees.