March 30 (UPI) — Israeli forces killed at least 12 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000 others as a protest grew Friday in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said.
Israeli troops lined the border fence with infantry battalions and more than 100 snipers ready to fire at Palestinians who attempt to break through the security fence.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza confirmed the deaths and said about 1,100 sustained injuries mostly from rubber bullets and tear gas. Some had gunshot wounds.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the March of Return demonstrations mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all of Palestine.
“The Palestinian people have proved time after time that they can take the initiative and do great things. This march is the beginning of the return to all of Palestine,” Haniyeh said. “This march sends a message that the Palestinian people are united against the occupation and against the blockade and against the concessions and against the suspicious deals.”
Omar Wahid Samur, a 27-year-old Palestinian man, was killed by Israeli tank fire near the town of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip. Another man was in critical condition after being injured by an Israeli tank shell.
Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the border ahead of the planned six-week protest that began Friday and was expected to last until mid-May, the anniversary of when thousands of Palestinians fled their homes during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Israeli military officials said protesters were burning tires and throwing rocks at the soldiers on the other side of the security fence. News outlets, social media posts and leaflets dropped from airplanes warned Palestinians not to approach the fence.
The Israeli military said it was “responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said any Palestinians approaching the security fence were putting their lives at risk.
“Those who approach the fence today are putting themselves in danger,” Liberman said. “I would advise [Gazans] to go on with your lives and not engage in provocations.”