[Friday noon prayers took place in the Malka area east of Gaza city with the presence of Palestinian political leaders, including Hamas' Ismail Haniya. (Photo: Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera)]
Gaza (Palestine): The Palestinian Authority has declared Saturday a day of national mourning after 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces as thousands marched near Gaza's border with Israel in a major demonstration marking the 42nd anniversary of Land Day.
"Schools, universities, as well as all government institutions, across the country will be off on Saturday, as per President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to declare a day of national mourning for the souls of the martyrs," a statement issued on Friday said.
More than 1,400 others were wounded after Israeli forces fired live ammunition at protesters and used tear gas to push them back from a heavily fortified fence, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Friday's demonstration commemorated Land Day, which took place on March 30, 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government's decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian-owned land. Organisers of Friday's march, dubbed "the Great Return March", said the main message of the demonstration was to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
In the planned protest, Palestinians are setting up tent camps along the border, the first of a series of actions planned in Gaza in the coming weeks. The activities are to culminate on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation, with a march through the border fence. Protesters said the main message of the march was to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians commemorate the date as the anniversary of their mass displacement and uprooting during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. The vast majority of Gaza residents are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from communities in what is now Israel.
Meanwhile, Gazans buried their dead on Saturday with calls for “revenge”. Thousands attended funerals for 15 of those killed — two were buried on Friday -with mourners holding Palestinian flags and some chanting “revenge” and firing into the air. A general strike was also being held in both the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. Minor clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians broke out in Hebron, while a small protest was held in Nablus, both in the West Bank.
Israel defended its soldiers’ actions on Friday, when troops opened fire on Palestinians who strayed from the main tent city protest — attended by tens of thousands — and approached the heavily fortified fence cutting off the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says it opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tires at soldiers. It also said there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was an attempted shooting attack against soldiers along the border that caused no casualties.
Palestinians however accused Israel of using disproportionate force, while human rights groups questioned Israel’s use of live fire. Unverified videos were being shared online, including one appearing to show a protester being shot while running with a tyre.
In addition to the 17 killed, more than 1,400 were wounded, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, according to the Gazan health ministry.
For all the latest News, Opinions and Views, download ummid.com App
Select Langauge To Read in Urdu, Hindi, Marathi or Arabic