Nine Palestinians, including a journalist, died after being shot by Israeli troops during border clashes, the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza strip said Saturday.
Yasser Murtaga, a photographer with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, was hit during clashes Friday, the ministry said, despite wearing a press vest.
The Israeli army declined to comment, saying it was reviewing the incident.
In addition to the nine dead, one of them a 16-year-old boy, at least 491 other people were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the health ministry said.
Live fire from Israelis
Israeli soldiers on Friday fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to prevent a breach of the border fence. The protesters burned tires near the fence, causing thick black smoke to rise into the air.
Israel’s military said the Palestinians protesters threw several explosive devices and firebombs and said some demonstrators attempted to cross the border fence.
Palestinian protesters have set up tent encampments a few hundred meters from the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip. Groups of youths have approached the fence to throw stones or to burn tires, risking live fire from Israeli troops.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described the protests as a provocation and warned that anyone nearing the border fence is putting his life at risk.
Israel’s military estimated the number of protesters Friday to be around 20,000. That is more than in recent days, but less than the 30,000 who protested on the first day of the demonstrations on March 30. That day, 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.
Protesting Gaza conditions
The United Nations, European Union and human rights groups charge that firing at unarmed demonstrators is an excessive use of force, but Israel has rejected their demands for an inquiry.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, says the protests are aimed at highlighting Israel’s crippling blockade on the coastal territory as well as the so-called “right of return,” the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in Israel.
The demonstrations, set to end May 15, are designed to commemorate what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee their land or were expelled during the war in 1948 that led to the creation of Israel.
The demonstration is expected to end at the same time Washington plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has infuriated Palestinians, who have claimed the eastern section of the city as the capital of their future state.
This story was written by VOA News. Robert Berger contributed to this report from Jerusalem.