Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Three Palestinians were shot dead Friday as thousands demonstrated along the border between Gaza and Israel for a fifth consecutive week of rallies dubbed the Great March of Return.
More than 300 other people were hospitalised for gunshot wounds and tear gas inhalation, Gaza’s health ministry said.
Forty-four Palestinians have now been killed by Israeli fire since major protests began on March 30, with hundreds more wounded.
No Israelis have been hurt.
Marchers are demanding the right to return to their homes seized by Israel in 1948.
Israel says that allowing the refugees in would mean the end of the Jewish state, and accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of using the protests as a pretext for violence.
The protest movement is officially independent but has the backing of Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.
On Friday protesters again gathered at five sites near the border fence, though numbers were down on previous weeks.
Dozens of young men burned tyres and threw stones a few hundreds metres from the border, with Israeli soldiers occasionally firing tear gas and live ammunition.
Two men, who were not identified by the Palestinian health ministry, were shot dead east of Gaza City, while a third, 29-year-old Abdul Salam al-Bakr, was killed along the border in southern Gaza.
Three journalists were among those injured, the Gaza Centre for Media Freedom said.
The Israeli army said in a statement around 10,000 Palestinians had taken part in “riots.”
“Attempts have been made to harm security infrastructure, roll burning tires, hurl rocks and fly kites with flaming objects attached to them.”
In response, it said, “troops have used riot dispersal means and have fired in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Demonstrations are expected to spike again in the lead up to May 14, when the United States will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The decision has infuriated Palestinians, who see the annexed eastern half of the holy city as the capital of their future state.
Amnesty International on Friday called for an arms embargo of Israel over the use of live fire.
“For four weeks the world has watched in horror as Israeli snipers and other soldiers, in full-protective gear and behind the fence, have attacked Palestinian protesters with live ammunition and tear gas,” the human rights organisation said in a statement.
Israel has rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the deaths along Gaza’s border, with the army saying its troops only use live ammunition as a last resort.