Israeli troops kill four more Palestinians

Palestinian protesters mourn the death of one of their own.
Palestinian protesters mourn the death of one of their own. Photo credit: Reuters

Israeli troops have shot dead four Palestinians on the Gaza-Israel border, bringing the death toll to 35 among Palestinian protesters demanding the right to return to their former homeland.

Gazans used catapults and slingshots to launch stones at Israeli forces, and some Palestinians brought wire-cutters to cut through the border fence, ignoring leaflets dropped by the Israeli military warning residents not to approach the frontier.

The deaths included a 15-year-old boy shot dead in northern Gaza, Palestinian health officials said. At least 100 people were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the officials said.

The planned six-week protest campaign reached its half-way point on Friday, which saw smaller crowds than in recent weeks. As the numbers peaked during the afternoon, Israeli soldiers called out warnings in Arabic over loudspeakers to anyone who approached the border fence.

Black plumes of smoke from piles of burning tyres billowed over the area, and stretcher-bearers rushed to carry the wounded to first aid posts.

The protest began on March 30, and has seen tent encampments spring up near the Israeli-imposed restricted zone along the 40km border fence. The protesters have revived demands for Palestinian refugees to regain their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

The protests are scheduled to culminate on May 15, when, according to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, the Gaza scenes would be replicated elsewhere on Israel's frontiers.

"I say to our people everywhere, be prepared for a human deluge on all of the borders of Palestine, inside the occupied land and outside the occupied land," he said on a visit to one of the border camps. "I say to the [Israeli occupiers] your time is gone."

Israel's use of live fire has drawn international criticism but the Israeli government says it is protecting its borders and takes such action when protesters come too close to the border fence.

The Israeli military said that around 3000 Palestinians were involved in the latest protest, and that its troops responded "with riot dispersal means and are firing in accordance with the rules of engagement".

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist militant group which rules Gaza, of staging riots and trying to carry out attacks. Hamas denies this. Although organisers say the main protest is intended to be peaceful, some protesters have advanced toward the border from the encampments to hurl stones and burning tyres near the fence.

On Friday they fitted kites with cans of flammable liquid, which they flew across the border to start fires in Israel.

"We aim to distract the soldiers from shooting and wounding or killing our people," said Mohammad Abu Mustafa, 17, who lost his right leg a few months ago after being shot by an Israeli soldier.

Israel's Foreign Ministry tweeted a photograph of one kite daubed with a swastika flying through the sky trailing flames.