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Three Palestinians killed as thousands protest in Gaza

By
Sommer Brokaw and Allen Cone
Palestinian protesters from Gaza strip and Israeli soldiers clash Saturday at the security fence next to Nahal Oz, facing the Gaza neighborhood of Shjaaia. Photo by Atef Safadi/EPA
Palestinian protesters from Gaza strip and Israeli soldiers clash Saturday at the security fence next to Nahal Oz, facing the Gaza neighborhood of Shjaaia. Photo by Atef Safadi/EPA

March 30 (UPI) -- Three Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured as thousands protested in Gaza to mark Land Day and the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return protests.

An estimated 40,000 Palestinians gathered Saturday along the Gaza border with Israel, throwing stones at the security fence and lobbing explosive devices that included hand grenades, the Jerusalem Post reported.

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Israeli forces used tear gas and live ammunition to stop protesters from approaching the fence.

The Israeli military also used a loud sound machine to spray blue-colored water on demonstrators.

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And correspondents reported that Israeli tanks were stationed near the border fence.

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two 17-year-olds during the protests and a 21-year-old demonstrator died after being shot near the border fence overnight, Palestian health authorities said, according to Voice of America.

Tamer Aby el-Khair, who was shot in the chest east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, died at the hospital, the ministry said. Adham Amaara was killed when he was struck in the face by live Israeli ammunition near the fence.

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At least 207 people were hurt, according to Gaza's health ministry.

A 13-year-old Palestinian was injured in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet in Khan Younis.

"We will move towards the borders even if we die," Yusef Ziyada, 21, his face painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, told Al Jazeera. "We are not leaving. We are returning to our land."

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Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said that "today's marches are a message of power from the rightful owners of occupied lands."

"The Palestinian resistance is ready for any scenario," Barhoum continued. "If Israel does not meet our demands, the resistance is ready to respond and change the equation. Today, we are at a crossroads in dealing with Israel, which is now being tested as to whether it will continue with murder and violence."

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived at the main demonstration, east of Gaza City. He accompanied by members of the Egyptian delegation mediating indirect ceasefire arrangement talks between Israel and Hamas.

Weekly protests began on March 30, 2018, or Land Day, an annual commemoration of a 1976 incident in which Israeli troops shot and killed six people during protests over land confiscations.

The Great March of Return protests are calling for Israel to lift a 12-year blockade and allow Palestinian refugees to return to land in Israel they were displaced from more than 70 years ago.

Over the year of protests, more than 260 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 7,000 have been shot and injured, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Fifty children, six women and one elderly man are among the 266 who have been killed, according to the Palestine Center for Human Rights.

A United Nations organization investigation found that while some demonstrators have used violence, they were largely unarmed and peaceful, concluding that Israel's use of live ammunition was unjustified and may amount to war crimes.

On the eve of the anniversary, the Great March of Return organizing committee called for a large turnout, but also told demonstrators to refrain from violence, which Israeli forces could use as an excuse to use force against them.

Organizers also called for demonstrators not to act aggressively or burn tires, an indication that Egyptian mediators had made progress in brokering peace between Hamas and Israel, Al Jazeera reported.

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