BEIRUT: The Palestinian death toll from Israel’s deadly response to peaceful protests last week rose to 18 Monday, as Gazans prepared for another day of mass protests Friday.
Several thousand Palestinians took part in the “Great March of Return” last Friday in the Gaza Strip, demanding the right of return of refugees to their occupied lands.
Despite the weekend’s bloodshed, Hassan Lafi – a Palestinian researcher who is close to the protest organizers – said that the situation in the area was relatively calm Monday. Although protests dwindled, tension remained high.
Hundreds of Palestinians continued the protest at a safe distance from Israeli soldiers, who maintained positions on their side of the barrier. Most people remained near the tents some 700 meters away from the border, while cultural events took place.
“These social events are aimed at highlighting the Palestinian heritage. Different activities are planned to take place throughout the 6-week-long protest,” Said al-Taweel said.
Lafi said the momentum of the demonstrations had considerably decreased but preparations were underway for a mass demonstration Friday, which they were preliminarily calling the “Day of Tires.”
“Palestinian protesters are thinking of ways to protect themselves against Israeli soldiers, including burning enough tires to obscure the view of snipers,” he said.
Three Palestinians were detained Monday for allegedly advancing to the border crossing south of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian state news agency WAFA reported. It added that Israeli soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters but no injuries were reported.
Israel bolstered its forces along the frontier with Gaza ahead of the protest with an additional 100 special forces snipers taking up positions in a bid to prevent Palestinians crossing the fence that separates the enclave.
More than 1,000 people have been wounded since Friday, including 196 minors, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. The ministry’s report said at least 805 of the casualty cases were caused by live ammunition, which included high-explosive incendiary.
Unarmed protester Fares al-Raqib, 29, who was shot Friday, succumbed to his wounds Monday, raising the Palestinian death toll to 18.
Lafi said Raqib had been helping evacuate the wounded from near the fence during the rally and was tending to the wounded when he was hit by Israeli fire.
The Islamic Jihad said Raqib was a member of the group, while Hamas said five of the protesters killed were members of its armed wing.
“The protesters were unarmed, even if some of them belonged to armed factions. When they were killed they were killed as civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest,” Lafi said.Videos widely shared online show the Israeli army targeting unarmed protesters. In one such instance, a young man is seen carrying a tire and running away from the border when he is shot in the head by an Israeli sniper. Another is seen praying with a group of men when he was hit.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected calls by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union for an independent investigation into the killings, saying the army has acted in defense of the border.
“There will be no such thing here. We shall not cooperate with any commission of inquiry,” he was quoted as saying to Israel’s public radio.
The protest is set to go on until May 15, the day Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes in the 1948 war.