At least 15 Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others injured Friday by Israeli security forces along the Israel-Gaza border, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The Israeli military said its troops used “riot dispersal means” to quell one of the largest Palestinian demonstrations and outbursts of violence along the border in recent years.
Violence erupted as thousands of Palestinians approached the border. The Israeli military said its troops responded to “main instigators” who were throwing stones and rolling burning tires. The Israeli military also accused militants of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of mass protests.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces fired live bullets, rubber-coated steel pellets and tear gas, killing at least 15 Palestinians and injuring about 1,400 others, including more than 750 injured by live fire.
It was the deadliest day in Gaza, a self-governing Palestinian territory, since last fall.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday evening about the situation in Gaza. U.N. deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun said the situation in Gaza “might deteriorate in the coming days” and called for civilians not to be targeted.
U.S. diplomat Walter Miller told the council, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life today.”
He urged “those involved to take steps to lower tensions.” Miller also said it was unfortunate that Israel, a close U.S. ally, could not take part in Friday’s meeting because of the Passover holiday.
Mansour Al-Otaibi, Kuwait’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said Israel’s actions were “a violation of the international humanitarian law.”
Palestinians have constructed protest tent camps along the entire length of the Gaza Strip in five locations that are expected to remain in place for six weeks. Whole families — men, women and children — were expected to participate in the tent camp demonstrations.
The Israeli military estimated about 30,000 demonstrators were taking part in the protests.
The weekslong demonstrations, to end May 15, are designed to commemorate 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.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned the Gaza demonstrators in an Arabic post on Twitter: “The leadership of Hamas is playing with your lives. Anyone who comes close to the fence today puts himself at risk. I suggest to you to continue your lives and not participate in a provocation.”
Israel has deployed more than 100 snipers along the Gaza Strip.
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.
On Thursday, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., said the demonstration is an “organized planned provocation” and asserted “Israel’s right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens.”