By Saleh Salem
GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians on Friday in protests along Gaza’s border, Gaza health officials said. Israel said its troops had shot a group who broke through the fence with a bomb and attacked an army post.
The Palestinian deaths bring to around 200 the number of Gazans killed since the border protests began on March 30, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures.
Gaza medics said that, in addition to the seven dead, around 140 others were wounded.
The Israeli military said that the demonstrators, numbering around 15,000, had been “hurling rocks, explosive devices, firebombs and grenades” at Israeli troops and at the fence.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus tweeted that one group had “detonated a bomb on the Israel-Gaza border fence”, allowing around 20 people to climb through the hole.
He said around five of the group had then launched an organised attack against a military post inside Israel and all had been killed by the troops.
The Palestinian protesters are demanding an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the narrow coastal strip, which is home to around 2 million Gazans. They also seek the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948.
Israel accuses the Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, of orchestrating the protests along the border fence to provide cover for attacks and to distract from Gaza’s economic plight. Hamas denies the allegations.
The Israeli military has been criticised by Palestinians and international human rights groups for its lethal response to the protests. It says its troops have used “riot dispersal means” and have fired “in accordance with standard operating procedures”.
One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper during the weekly protests, and tracts of Israeli land have been scorched by incendiary kites and balloons.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 and has since fought three wars with Israel, most recently in 2014.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, addressing a conference in Istanbul from Gaza, said on Friday that Hamas was seeking to reach understandings with several parties, including Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations. He expressed hope that the efforts “could lead to calm in return for breaking the siege”.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Heavens)