Over 1,400 were also injured Friday by Israeli forces in Gaza, roughly half of whom were hit by live fire, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. Thousands of protesters are attending funerals on Saturday.
“Medical facilities in Gaza, which have already been overstrained by the longstanding shortages of medical supplies, electricity, and fuel, are struggling to cope with the overwhelming number of casualties,” the ministry says.
Over two dozen protesters have already been injured in Saturday’s protests, Haaretzreports.
Friday was the first day of the “March of Great Return,” a six-week action slated to end on the day marking the “Nakba.” Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered at five spots along the Gaza-Israel border saying, “We are not here to fight; we are here to return to our lands.”
As the Guardian reports: “Israel said it has positioned snipers and responded to ‘rioting’ Palestinians with ‘dispersal means’ and ‘firing towards main instigators.’ It said the movement was a Hamas-orchestrated ploy and it was identifying ‘terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.'”
Israel-based human rights group B’Tselem—which noted that “Israeli forces have already been lethally shooting Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza for some time”—criticized such a characterization of the movement. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, also noted that “Israeli allegations of violence by some protesters do not change the fact that using lethal force is banned by international law except to meet an imminent threat to life.”
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, tweeted that “The Israeli military tweeted they knew ‘where every bullet landed,’ then deleted it, probably because there is video showing their bullets landing in the backs of unarmed protesters.”
The Israeli military tweeted they knew “where every bullet landed”, then deleted it, probably because there is video showing their bullets landing in the backs of unarmed protesters. pic.twitter.com/Yz1CgaBlGB
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) March 31, 2018
Israel’s chief army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Saturday that if violence continues, “we will not be able to continue limiting our activity to the [separation barrier] fence area and will act against these terror organizations in other places too.”
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday called for an independent probe of the deadly events, while Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, the deputy UN political affairs chief, warned the UN Security Council, “There is fear the situation might deteriorate in the coming days.”
B’Tselem, meanwhile, states, “The decision where and whether and how to demonstrate in Gaza is not Israel’s to make.”
“Official Israeli statements have made no reference to the actual reason for the protest—the disastrous reality in Gaza—or to the right to free protest. Israel has the power to immediately change life in Gaza for the better,” the group added, “but has chosen not to do so. It has made Gaza a huge prison, yet forbids the prisoners even to protest against this, on pain of death.”