Israeli forces killed 7 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip on Friday, according to Palestinian authorities, as protesters were demonstrating across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel on Friday to mark "Land Day".
The Gaza Ministry of Health confirmed in the early afternoon that five Palestinians had been killed during clashes on the border with Israel, identifying the slain Palestinians as Mohammad Kamel Najjar, 29, who was killed near Jabalia in northern Gaza, Mahmoud Abu Muammar, 38, near Rafah in the south, Mohammad Abu Ummar, 16-year-old Ahmad Odeh, north of Gaza City, and Jihad Farina, 33, east of Gaza City.
The ministry added that at least 350 demonstrators had been injured, while the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said 201 were wounded by live fire alone.
Hours before the protests, an Israeli tank shell killed a Gaza farmer and wounded another, the Gaza health ministry said.
"Omar Samour, 27, was martyred and another citizen was wounded as a result of (Israeli) targeting of farmers east of Qarara village," a Gaza health ministry spokesman said. Residents of the southern Gaza Strip village said Samour had been gathering crops to sell later
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the incident. "Overnight two suspects approached the security fence and began operating suspiciously and the tank fired towards them," the spokesman said.
Human rights NGO Adalah denounced the Israeli army’s use of live fire as a “brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” and called for an investigation into the killings.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians were demonstrating across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel on Friday to mark Land Day and demand the right of return for refugees.
The Israeli army announced in a statement that it had declared the border area of the Gaza Strip a closed military zone - meaning all Palestinians getting close to the border fence could risk getting shot.
"The march has achieved its goals, it has shaken the pillars of the entity (Israel), and laid the first brick for the road of return," Ismail Haniyeh, one of Hamas' top political leaders, told MEE, while visiting a protest camp in Gaza.
Held annually, Land Day marks the killing by Israeli troops of six Palestinian citizens of Israel on 30 March 1976 during a protest against land confiscations.
In the Gaza Strip, where 1.3 million of the small territory’s two million inhabitants are refugees, protest organisers have called for six weeks of demonstrations called the "Great Return March" along the border of the besieged Palestinian enclave and Israel, starting on Friday and culminating on 15 May for Nakba Day.
"Seven hundred meters away from those soldiers lies my right and the Palestinian people’s right to return home after 70 years of displacement. We will not wait another 70,” Alaa Shahin, a young Palestinian man who was celebrating his wedding at a protest camp near Jabaliya, told MEE.
While Gaza organisers have insisted that the demonstrations will be peaceful, several incidents of Gazans being detained after entering Israel in recent days – including three Palestinians who were carrying weapons – have seen Israeli forces keen to prove their control of the situation.
The Israeli army confirmed in a statement that it was using "riot dispersal means" - a term typically used to refer to tear gas and sound bombs - as well a firing at "main instigators" of the protest.
Israel's military chief said on Wednesday that more than 100 snipers had been deployed on the Gaza border ahead of the planned mass demonstration near the frontier.
Heavy earth-moving vehicles have built up dirt mounds on the Israeli side of the border and barbed wire has been placed as an additional obstacle against any mass attempt to breach the border into Israeli territory.
This year’s Land Day comes on the heels of months of anger over US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, largely perceived as the United States rejecting Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as their capital as part of a two-state solution.
Nakba Day this year will also mark 70 years since the creation of the state of Israel and the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, whose descendants now number millions living as refugees abroad or in the occupied Palestinian territory.
With Israeli political discourse veering further to the right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinians have grown increasingly disillusioned regarding the likelihood of negotiations or an improvement in their living situation in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel itself.