- At a demonstration on the Israeli-Gaza border, Israeli security forces killed at least 16 Palestinians and injured hundreds more.
- Tens of thousands of protesters call for refugees to return to Israel.
- At least 400 people were injured by firearms, health officials from Gaza said.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a National Day of Mourning.
GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (Reuters) – At least 16 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds of injured by Israeli security forces facing one of the largest Palestinian demonstrations along the Israeli-Gaza border in recent years, Gaza Strip medical workers said ,
Tens of thousands of Palestinians huddled on the fenced 65-kilometer border where, for scheduled six-week protests, local officials were tents set up to demand a return right for refugees to present-day Israel. The estimate of the Israeli military was 30,000.
Families took their children to the camps just a few hundred yards from the Israeli security barrier with the Hamas-led Islamist enclave, and football fields were marked in the sand and scout groups were playing.
But during the day, hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored the demands of the organizers and the Israeli military to stay away from the border, where Israeli soldiers were guarding mud pits across the border.
The military said its troops had only burnt fire against persons attempting to sabotage the border security fence, some of them were burning burning tires and throwing stones, and at least two of the dead were Hamas agents.
Palestinian health officials said the Israeli forces used tear gas and rubber bullets as main targets against the demonstrators. Witnesses reported that the military had set up a drone in at least one place to drop tear gas.
One of the dead was 16 years old and at least 400 people were injured by firearms, others were hit by rubber bullets or were treated for tear gas inhalation, Gaza health officials said.
Two Palestinians were killed by tank bombardment, said the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The Israeli military said the two were fighters who opened fire on troops across the border.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that Israel was responsible for the violence and declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
The UN Security Council was scheduled to meet later Friday to discuss the situation in Gaza, diplomats said.
The protest was a rare demonstration of unity among rival Palestinian groups in the impoverished Gaza Strip, where pressure was built on the Fatah movement of Hamas and Abbas to end a decades-long crack. The reconciliation efforts to end the feud have stalled for months.
The demonstration began on "Land Day," an annual commemoration of the deaths of six Arab Israeli citizens killed in 1976 by Israeli security forces at land confiscation demonstrations in northern Israel.
But her main focus was a demand that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to the towns and villages from which their families fled or were expelled when the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
In a statement, the Israeli military accused Hamas of "cynically exploiting women and children, sending them to the security fence and endangering their lives."
The military said more than 100 army snipers had been deployed in the area.
Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, had previously urged the demonstrators to adhere to the "peaceful nature" of the protests.
Israel has long since ruled out any right of return, fearing an influx of Arabs who would wipe out its Jewish majority. It is argued that refugees should be resettled in a future state that the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. The peace talks for this purpose collapsed in 2014.
There were also small protests in the Israel-occupied West Bank, and about 65 Palestinians were injured.
In Gaza, the protest was called "The March of Return" and some of the tents bore the names of the original refugee villages in present-day Israel, written in Arabic and Hebrew.
Relying on security concerns, Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, blocked the coastal area and kept narrow restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods across the border. Egypt, which is fighting an Islamist uprising in neighboring Sinai, keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.