TEHRAN (Press Shia) – At least 16 Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured on Friday by Israeli security forces confronting one of the largest Palestinian demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza border in recent years, Gaza medical officials said.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians, pressing for a right of return for refugees to what is now Israel, gathered along the fenced 65-km (40-mile) frontier where tents were erected for a planned six-week protest, local officials said.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed on the violence in Gaza on Friday at the request of Kuwait. Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told the council at least 17 Palestinian civilians were killed and more than 1,400 injured, Reuters reported.
Israeli troops had used live fire against people trying to sabotage the border security fence.
Palestinian health officials said Israeli forces used mostly gunfire against the protesters, in addition to tear gas and rubber bullets. Witnesses said the military had deployed a drone over at least one location to drop tear gas.
One of the dead was aged 16 and at least 400 people were wounded by live gunfire, while others were struck by rubber bullets or treated for tear gas inhalation, Gaza health officials said.
Two Palestinians were killed by tank fire, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that Israel was responsible for the violence and declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent, transparent investigation and appealed “to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and in particular any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way,” his spokesman said in a statement.
A senior UN official told the UN Security Council there are fears the situation in Gaza “might deteriorate in the coming days.”
The protest presented a rare show of unity among Palestinian factions in the impoverished Gaza Strip, where pressure has been building on Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah movement to end a decade-old rift.
The demonstration was launched on “Land Day,” an annual commemoration of the deaths of six Arab citizens killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over government land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976.
But its main focus was a demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed the right of return to towns and villages from which they were driven out when the Israeli regime was created in 1948.
In Gaza, the protest was dubbed “The March of Return” and some of the tents bore names of the refugees’ original villages in what is now Israel, written in Arabic and Hebrew alike.