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Four killed as Israeli forces use live rounds on Great March of Return protesters

Despite heavy rain, some 40,000 people were gathered at the frontier area

Sunday March 31, 2019 11:31 AM, ummid.com News Network

Gaza Protest

[A protestor woman walks toward the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, while others gather to mark first anniversary of Gaza border protests east of Gaza City, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (Photo: Adel Hana/The Associated Press)]

Gaza (Palestine): Israeli forces Saturday used live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas on the Great March of Return protesters, killing three 17-year-old boys, and wounding at least 207 people, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Tamer Aby el-Khair was shot in the chest east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza and died at a hospital, the ministry said. The second teen, Adham Amara, died after being shot in the face east of Gaza City. The third teen, Belal al-Najjar, was killed by an Israeli gunshot, Al Jazeera reported citing Gaza officials.

A fourth Palestinian, identified as 20-year-old Mohamed Jihad Saad, was killed in an overnight demonstration ahead of the main protest.

Great March of Return

Earlier in the day, thousands of Palestinians rallied at the Israel-Gaza fence to mark the first anniversary of the Great March of Return protests, facing off against Israeli tanks and troops massed on the fortified perimeter.

Palestinians are demanding the right to return to lands from which their families were violently expelled during the founding of Israel in 1948. They are also calling for an end to Israel's and Egypt's 12-year blockade of Gaza.

"We will move towards the borders even if we die," said Yusef Ziyada, 21, his face painted in the colours of the Palestinian flag. "We are not leaving. We are returning to our land."

Despite heavy rain, some 40,000 people were gathered at the frontier area, the Israeli army said.

Most protesters were keeping away from the fence, but some hurled stones and explosive devices at the structure and set tires ablaze, the army said, adding that it was responding with "riot dispersal means and firing in accordance with standard operating procedures".

Describing the rally as "completely peaceful", Mohammed Ridwan, a 34-year-old protester who works at a Gaza think-tank, told Al Jazeera the huge turnout on Saturday was "ample proof that our people will not back down until they gain their legitimate rights".

Saturday’s protest came at a sensitive time, with Israel and Hamas, bitter enemies that have fought three wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes, both having a strong interest in keeping things quiet, according to Associated Press.

Israel Election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking his fourth consecutive term in April 9 elections, but is facing a serious challenge from a group of ex-army chiefs who have criticized what they say is his failed Gaza policy. With a lack of alternatives, Netanyahu has been forced at times to rely on Hamas to maintain stability along Israel’s volatile southern front.

In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu needs to keep the Israel-Gaza frontier quiet, without seeming to make concessions to Hamas. Netanyahu took heavy criticism this week for what was seen as a soft response to renewed rocket fire out of Gaza.

Hamas, meanwhile, faces growing unrest in Gaza as a result of worsening conditions after more than a decade of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. The two countries imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

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