Least four Palestinian protesters were killed, and over 200 have been wounded after Israeli troops opened fire on protesters along the Israel-Gaza border Friday. Five of the persons injured as thousands participated in the March of Return are said to be in critical condition according to medical officials.
The deaths in Friday's protest follow 24 others, which took place in the first round of demonstrations last week, and add to the trend of severe violence from Israeli troops that led to over 1000 injuries over the same period. Thousands converged on Gaza's border with Israel and set fire to mounds of tires, which were supposed to block the visibility of Israeli snipers and avoid more deaths, in the second week of demonstrations.
Israel's violent response to peaceful protests has been heavily criticized over the last week. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged troops to exercise restraint, these calls, however, haven't been heeded.
Israeli officials have attempted to portray the use of deadly force and firearms as a necessary measure to prevent “terrorists” from infiltrating into Israel and to "protect its border."
An Israeli military spokesman said Friday they “will not allow any breach of the security infrastructure and fence, which protects Israeli civilians.”
However, the U.N. has reminded the Israeli government that an attempt to cross the border fence does not amount to “threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of live ammunition.”
The U.N. has also stressed Israel remains the occupying force in Gaza and has the "obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed against protestors and that in the context of a military occupation, as in the case in Gaza, the unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms by law enforcement resulting in death may amount to willful killing."
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli public radio Thursday that "if there are provocations, there will be a reaction of the harshest kind like last week," showing no sign that his government would reconsider their strategy when responding to unarmed protesters.
Pro-Israel organization StandWithUs has resorted to claiming Palestinians are faking injuries to garner international sympathy and supported their claims by posting videos showing "Palestinians practicing for the cameras." The Palestinians in the video were actually practicing how to evacuate the wounded during the protest.
Other claims advanced by Israeli authorities include accusing the political party Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization, of being, behind the protests.
Asad Abu Sharekh, the spokesperson of the march, has countered the claim saying "the march is organized by refugees, doctors, lawyers, university students, Palestinian intellectuals, academics, civil society organizations and Palestinian families."
Since March 30th, which marks Palestinian Land Day, thousands have set up several tent encampments within Gaza, some 65 kilometers away from the border.
The symbolic move is part of the Great March of Return which aims to demand the right of over 5 million Palestinian refugees to return to the lands from which they were expelled from after the formation of the state of Israel.
More than half of the 2 million Palestinians who live in Gaza under an over 10-year-long blockade are refugees.
Israel has denied Palestinian refugees this right because of what they call a “demographic threat.”