GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian stone-throwers clashed on Friday with Israeli troops in several locations along the Israel-Gaza border fence, as mass sit-ins touted by Gaza's Hamas rulers as peaceful protests quickly spun out of control.
Israeli troops fired live bullets and tear gas at Palestinians on the other side of the border fence. The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 15 people were wounded by army fire.
Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinians participated in clashes, while thousands more gathered in tent encampments set up in five sites several at a distance of several hundred meters from the border.
The Israeli military said thousands of Palestinians rolled burning tires and threw stones at forces stationed on the border. It said troops opened fire at the “main instigators.”
The military said it views with “great severity any breach of Israeli sovereignty or damage to the security fence.”
Several hours before the confrontations, a Palestinian farmer was killed by an Israeli tank shell in the southern Gaza Strip, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
Israel's military said ahead of the protests that it doubled its standard troop level along the border, deploying snipers, special forces and paramilitary border police units, which specialize in riot control. The military said it would not allow the crowds to breach the fence or damage military infrastructure.
Previous protests near the border fence in recent months have turned deadly, with Israeli soldiers firing live bullets at Palestinians burning tires, throwing stones or hurling firebombs.
On Friday, mosques across Gaza called on Palestinians to join the protests. Buses took protesters to the border area, including five tent encampments set up from north to south, several hundred meters from the border fence. By noon, thousands had arrived at the encampments.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum praised the turnout.
“The large crowds ... reflect the Palestinian people's determination to achieve the right of return and break the siege and no force can stop this right,” he said.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ supreme leader along with Gaza leader Yehiyeh Sinwar visited the tents.
The sit-ins are seen as a new attempt by Hamas to break a crippling, decade-old Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt that has made it increasingly difficult for the Islamic militant group to govern.
Other tactics over the years, including cross-border wars with Israel and attempts to reconcile with political rival Mahmoud Abbas, the West Bank-based Palestinian president, have failed to end Gaza's isolation.
Friday's actions are to be the first in a series of protests planned in Gaza in the coming weeks. The activities are to culminate on May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel's creation, with a march through the border fence.
Palestinians commemorate the date as the anniversary of their mass displacement and uprooting during the 1948 Mideast war over Israel's creation. The vast majority of Gaza residents are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from communities in what is now Israel.
The Palestinian killed Friday was identified as 27-year-old Amr Samour. Israel said troops had directed tank fire at suspicious figures near the border fence in the area.
Yasser Samour, a relative and fellow farmer, said Amr Samour was harvesting parsley before dawn, in hopes of selling it fresh in the market later in the day.
“I was working on the next field,” Yasser Samour said. “We heard shelling landing on the field where Amr works. We ran there and found him hit directly with a shell. We were more than a kilometer away from the border.”
Another farmer was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, Samour said.
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