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Israeli troops fire shots, tear gas on Gaza protesters, 350 Palestinians injured



GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Israeli troops killed about 350 people and fired tear gas on Palestinians on the border between Gaza and Israel on Friday as part of a protracted protest rally.

Doctors said around 50 people were shot and injured with live fire, three of them critically, and 300 others were treated for gas inhalation and other injuries along the Gaza side of the 40-kilometer border fence where Palestinians camp on the 30th March for what they call the "Great March of Return".

Teenagers rolled burning tires up to 300 meters from the fence and tried to use the smoke as cover to throw stones over them as they escaped Israeli snipers. Army gunfire killed at least 43 Palestinians on the border last month.

The demonstrators said they used slingshots to knock down two small Israeli observation drones. The army confirmed the drone losses.

In the face of international criticism of the use of live fire in the protests, Israel says it protects its border and acts only when demonstrators, some of whom launch firebombs and attempt to detonate explosives, come too close.

On Friday, troops faced "about 7,000 Palestinians involved in riots at five locations along the Gaza Strip border," a military spokesman said, adding that a group had tried to break the fence and enter Israeli territory.

As Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, Palestinians mourn what they call the "nakba" (catastrophe) of mass expropriation of their people during the 1

948 conflict.

Two-thirds of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza are war refugees or their descendants. During the protests, thousands – more in number on Friday – gathered to demand access to the lost homes or lands of their families in Israel.

A demonstrator uses a bat to bring back tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a protest calling for Palestinians to return to their home base on the Israeli-Gaza border in southern Gaza, 4 May 2018 , Ibrahim Abu Mustafa

"GIVE US A STATE"

Israel decides that, worried that it will lose its Jewish majority. Alternatives, such as the placement of refugees and their descendants in a future Palestinian state, were discussed in peace talks dating back to 1993 but now stalled.

"Without the occupation we would have lived as freely as in other countries," said Ahmed, 24, at a protest site east of Gaza City. "If they do not allow us, they should at least give us a state."

Israel says that the protests are organized by Hamas – an Islamist group that controls Gaza and condemns Israel's destruction – in order to provide protection against attacks, and that most of the dead were militants. The Palestinians deny these allegations.

The protests are taking place at a time of growing frustration as the prospects for an independent Palestinian state look bad. While the peace talks are stalled, Israel, which in 2005, after 38 years of occupation, withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza, has expanded its settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Another focus this year is President Donald Trump's decision to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

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Trump's steps angered the Palestinian leaders, who had refused to speak with his government and accused them of pro-Israeli bias. The Israeli government celebrated the US decision, saying that it recognizes the "reality" that Jerusalem was the historical capital of the Jewish people.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Middle East earlier this week to support Israel's handling of the border protests. "We believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves," he said.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Arrangement by Stephen Farrell and Mark Heinrich


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