GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Shiite Muslims marched in the capitals of Iran and Iraq on Friday to mark “Jerusalem Day,” in an annual protest against Israeli rule over the holy city and show of support for the Palestinians. Some burned Israeli flags and effigies of President Donald Trump.
Later on Friday, thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were to head to the perimeter fence with Israel to stage the latest in a series of mass protests against the blockade of their territory by Israel and Egypt.
Friday’s protest was also being held to mark Jerusalem Day, instituted by Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A large turnout was expected in Gaza, raising concerns about renewed bloodshed. At least 115 Palestinian protesters have been killed and close to 3,800 have been wounded by Israeli army fire since the marches began in late March.
Earlier on Friday, organizers urged Gaza residents to head to the perimeter fence with Israel after Muslim noon prayers. The call was issued through mosques and loudspeakers mounted on cars that toured Gaza neighborhoods.
Previous border protests have drawn thousands of people, most gathering at sit-in tent camps several hundred meters (yards) from the fence. Smaller groups have approached the fence, throwing stones, burning tires or sending kites with incendiary materials attached toward Israel with the aim to set fields there on fire. Others have thrown fire bombs or tried to damage the fence. Israeli soldiers, including snipers perched behind earthen berms, have fired live bullets and tear gas.
On Friday morning, Israeli army drones dropped incendiary materials on piles of old tires to make them unusable for the later protests, Gaza organizers said.
Israel’s use of potentially lethal force against the protesters, the vast majority of them unarmed, has drawn international criticism. Rights groups have said Israel’s open-fire rules are unlawful.
Israel has accused Gaza’s ruling group, the Islamic militant Hamas, of trying to carry out attacks and damage the fence under the guise of the protests. Hamas leaders have threatened possible mass border breaches, raising concerns in Israel that communities near Gaza might be at risk.
The Jerusalem Day protests are being held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The day is known in Arabic as “Al Quds Day,” a reference to the city’s historic Arabic name.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it to its capital, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel’s current government has said it will not accept a partition of the city as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The eastern sector houses major shrines revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in east Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, is built on the spot where tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The compound sits on the ruins of biblical temples and is revered as the holiest site of Judaism.
In Iran’s capital of Tehran, thousands joined a Jerusalem Day march on Friday, chanting “Death to Israel” and burning a Trump effigy.
Iran and Israel are implacable foes. Iran does not recognize Israel and supports militant groups, including Hamas, the smaller Palestinian group Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.
In Iraq, thousands of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen in uniform marched through the streets of the capital of Baghdad on Friday, setting an Israeli flag on fire and carrying posters of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed reporting.