GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip.- Hundreds of Palestinians converged on the Gaza Strip’s border fence with Israel, trying to rip through it before drawing heavy Israeli fire in one of the most violent incidents yet in five weeks of protests.
Three Palestinians were killed and dozens were reported wounded. The violence came shortly after a top U.N. official urged Israel to refrain from using excessive force against the protesters.
At least 38 protesters have been killed by Israeli live fire and more than 1,600 wounded in the weekly protests since they began March 30. Israel has rejected the international criticism, saying it is defending its sovereign border and accusing Gaza’s Hamas leaders, who are organizing the protests, of using the crowds as cover to carry out attacks.
In Friday’s unrest, a large crowd gathered a few hundred meters (yards) from the border, with some throwing stones and setting tires on fire in what has become a weekly occurrence. Late in the afternoon, dozens of young men broke away from the larger protest, moving south about 200 meters (yards) and approaching the fence. The crowd then tried to break through the fence with hooks and wire cutters when Israeli forces opened fire.
Witnesses said three protesters briefly crossed into Israel and turned around. Hundreds of additional protesters ran to the scene, and the numbers quickly grew to several thousand.
Israeli armored vehicles sped to the site and fired barrages of tear gas. As gunfire erupted, the crowd dispersed. A dozen Palestinian ambulances jammed a dirt road lining up to evacuate the wounded. Some in the crowd shouted “shahid,” or “martyr” as bodies were taken away on stretchers.