NEWS
01/04/2018 13:14 SAST | Updated 02/04/2018 06:45 SAST

Israeli Troops Wound 13 On Gaza Border One Day After Killing 15

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a national day of mourning.

Mohammed Salem / Reuters

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli troops fired warning shots toward Palestinian youths gathered at the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday, wounding 13 people, health officials said.

Tension remained high in the area a day after Israeli troops opened fire on one of the biggest Palestinian demonstrations there in years.

An Israeli military spokesperson said he was checking the details of Saturday's shootings.

On Friday, Israeli security forces confronting protesters killed at least 15 Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a national day of mourning and a general strike was called across the occupied West Bank. Thousands in Gaza marched through the streets at funerals for those killed.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered on Friday along the fenced 65-kilometre frontier, where tents were erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel. The Israeli military estimate was 30,000.

Families brought their children to the encampments just a few hundred metres from the Israeli security barrier with the Hamas-run enclave. But hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organisers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier, and Israeli soldiers opened fire on them.

PALESTINIANS MARKING "CATASTROPHE"

The protest, organised by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, is scheduled to culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate the "Nakba" or "Catastrophe", in which hundreds of thousands fled – or were driven out of – their homes in 1948, when the state of Israel was created.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing an influx of Arabs that would wipe out its Jewish majority. It argues that refugees should resettle in a future state the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Peace talks to that end have been frozen since 2014.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.

Egypt also keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

Abbas' spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said: "The message of the Palestinian people is clear. The Palestinian land will always belong to its legitimate owners and the occupation will be removed."

Israeli military spokesperson Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis said Hamas was using the protests as a guise to launch attacks against Israel and ignite the area. He said violence would likely continue along the border until May 15.

"We won't let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will not have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip," Manelis told reporters in a phone briefing.

The Gaza health ministry had said on Friday that 16 people were killed, but revised the death toll to 15 on Saturday.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; editing by Angus MacSwan. Further editing by HuffPost)

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