At least 130 Gazans hit by Israeli gunfire: Palestinian ministry

At least 130 Gazans hit by Israeli gunfire: Palestinian ministry

GAZA CITY: At least 130 Palestinians were hit by Israeli gunfire Friday as thousands protested near Gaza’s border with Israel, the health ministry in the enclave said.

Following calls to avoid an escalation in violence, the demonstrators largely kept their distance from the fortified frontier fence.

But at least 130 Palestinians were injured by live fire in clashes with Israeli soldiers, the health ministry said.

An Israeli army spokesman told AFP that while most of the protesters stayed back from the fence, some came close and threw explosive devices and hand grenades at troops, while burning tires.

“The soldiers who were there responded with riot dispersal means, along with gunfire,” he said.

Since March, Palestinians have moved right up to the border fence every Friday and occasionally breached it, leading to clashes in which more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed.

While thousands again gathered for the latest protests in northern Gaza, the demonstrators largely remained at least 100 meters (yards) from the border.

An AFP correspondent said Hamas security officials in at least one location were seen discouraging protesters from nearing the fence.

Kites and balloons equipped with incendiary devices were launched across the border into southern Israel, and the Israeli army said one of its aircraft targeted a group of men launching balloons.

An Egyptian security delegation visited the Gaza Strip on Thursday and encouraged Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah to calm the protests, an Egyptian official said.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Egyptian security officials had held separate meetings in the past few days with Israeli counterparts and with Hamas leaders in an effort to prevent an escalation in violence.

United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov, in a tweet, also urged all sides “to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner, and to avoid escalation.”

On Wednesday, two rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave at Israel, with one destroying a house in the southern city of Beersheba.

In response Israel ramped up armored forces along the Gaza border on Thursday and Israeli air strikes targeted around 20 Hamas targets in Gaza.

More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel pulled troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the past decade.

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