Two Palestinians have been killed after Israeli troops opened fire on protesters across the border fence, health officials said.
The shootings came as thousands of Palestinians joined the fourth weekly protest on Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, with some burning tyres or flying kites which carried flaming rags.
Huge black plumes of smoke from the blazing tyres engulfed the area, as Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets, witnesses said.
Gaza’s health ministry said 40 protesters were injured, but did not say how many of those were wounded by gunfire or overcome by tear gas.
The protests are part of what organisers, led by Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, have billed as an escalating showdown with Israel, to culminate in a mass march on May 15. Organisers have made conflicting statements about whether they plan an eventual mass border breach.
In the past three weeks, 28 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli troops firing from across the border fence.
In addition, two Palestinian men, aged 24 and 25, were shot and killed in a border area in northern Gaza, the health ministry said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Hamas said the protests are aimed at breaking a crippling border blockade that was imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant group overran Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections.
The marches also press for a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. Palestinians mark May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, as their “nakba”, or catastrophe, to mourn their mass uprooting.
Several thousand protesters flocked to the border area on Friday, most gathering in five tent camps several hundred yards away from the border. Smaller groups advanced toward the fence, throwing stones, burning tyres and flying kites with burning rags.
The kites are part of a new tactic aimed at setting wheat fields on the Israeli side on fire. Most kites were stitched together in the colours of the Palestinian flag. One white kite bore the Nazi swastika.
Earlier, Israeli military aircraft had dropped leaflets urging Palestinians to stay away from the fence and warning that they are endangering their lives if they follow Hamas directives.
The military has said it is defending Israel’s border and that its troops, including snipers, only target “instigators”. It has also accused Hamas of using mass protests as a cover for attacks.
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