Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least ten Palestinians and wounding 491 others in the second mass border protest in eight days.

Palestinian mourners in the Gaza Strip buried their dead, including a journalist, after Israeli troops killed nine people during the latest border clashes in a week of bloodshed. (April 7, 2018)
Palestinian mourners in the Gaza Strip buried their dead, including a journalist, after Israeli troops killed nine people during the latest border clashes in a week of bloodshed. (April 7, 2018) (AFP)

Palestinian mourners in the Gaza Strip on Saturday buried their dead, including a journalist, after Israeli troops killed at least 10 Gazans during the latest protests in a week of bloodshed.

Thousands of Palestinians protested along Gaza's sealed border with Israel on Friday, engulfing the volatile area in black smoke from burning tires to try to block the view of Israeli snipers.

Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least ten Palestinians and wounding 491 others — 33 of them seriously — in the second mass border protest in a week, Gaza health officials said. 

A well-known Palestinian journalist was among the dead, and hundreds of others suffered other injuries, including tear gas inhalation, the officials said.

The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week.

Early on Saturday, Palestinian health officials confirmed that Yasser Murtaja had died from a gunshot wound sustained while covering demonstrations near the Israeli border in Khuzaa. 

The area was the scene of large protests on Friday, and was covered in thick black smoke.

Murtaga was over 100 meters from the border, wearing a flak jacket marked "press" and holding his camera when he was shot in an exposed area just below the armpit. 

Journalists were in the area as protesters were setting tires on fire.

The Israeli military has said it fired only at "instigators" involved in attacks on soldiers or the border fence. It had no immediate comment.

Murtaja worked for Ain media, a local TV production company that has done projects, including aerial drone video, for foreign media.

An AFP picture taken after he was wounded showed Murtaja wearing a press vest as he received treatment.

His brother Motazem, also a journalist, said he was next to him when he was shot. 

"The target was very clearly journalists," he said.

The latest casualties were bound to draw new criticism from rights groups that have branded Israel's open-fire orders on the border as unlawful, after Israel's defence minister warned that those approaching the fence were risking their lives.

The UN human rights office said on Friday that it has indications that Israeli forces used "excessive force" against protesters last week, when 15 Palestinians were killed or later died of wounds sustained near the border.

An Israeli military spokesman defended the rules of engagement.

"If they are actively attacking the fence, if they are throwing a molotov cocktail that is within striking distance of Israeli troops or similar activities, then those persons, those rioters, become, may become, a target," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

Reagan Des Vignes reports.  

Tires on fire

Friday's marches began before Muslim noon prayers when thousands of Palestinians streamed to five tent encampments that organisers had set up several hundred meters from the border fence.

In one camp near the border community of Khuzaa, smaller groups of activists moved closer to the fence after the prayers. 

Demonstrators torched large piles of tires, engulfing the area in black smoke meant to shield them from Israeli snipers; the faces of some of the activists were covered in black soot.

Israeli troops on the other side of the fence responded with live fire, tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and water cannons.

After the first tires started burning, several young men with gunshot wounds began arriving at a field clinic at the camp.

The death toll since last week includes at least 24 people killed during the two Friday protests at the border, as well as one killed during a protest on Tuesday. 

The six other deaths include three Palestinian gunmen killed in what Israel said were attempts to attack the border fence and three men who were struck by Israeli tank fire.

Mohammad Mansour, a journalist in Gaza, says Palestinians have nothing to lose by protesting.

Tattered Gazan economy

Friday's large crowds suggested that Hamas, the group that has ruled Gaza since a 2007 takeover, might be able to keep the momentum going in the next few weeks. 

Hamas has called for a series of protests until May 15, the anniversary of Israel's founding when Palestinians commemorate their mass uprooting during the 1948 war over Israel's creation.

Israel has alleged that Hamas is using the mass marches as a cover for attacking the border fence, and has vowed to prevent a breach at all costs.

The mass protests are perhaps Hamas' last chance to break a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, without having to succumb to demands that it disarm. 

The blockade has made it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. It has also devastated Gaza's economy, made it virtually impossible for people to enter and exit the territory, and left residents with just a few hours of electricity a day.

Mourtaja 'victim of an intentional shot'

Reporters Without Borders on Saturday accused the Israeli army of the "deliberate shooting" of journalists in Gaza after a week of bloodshed by the border.

"Palestinian photographer Yasser Mourtaja was wearing a vest marked "Press": he was obviously the victim of an intentional shot," said Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), on Twitter.

"RSF condemns absolutely the deliberate shooting of journalists by the Israeli army."

"We call on the Israeli government to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists (adopted in 2015), demand an urgent independent investigation and the sentencing of the perpetrators of this crime against freedom of the press," said Deloire.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies