World, Middle East

14 Gazans martyred as ‘Return’ marches gather momentum

Israeli troops shoot down Palestinian protesters amassed along blockaded Gaza’s eastern border

14 Gazans martyred as ‘Return’ marches gather momentum An ambulance carries injured demonstrators after Israeli soldiers' intervention in "Great March of Return" at border east of Al Bureij Refugee Camp in Gaza City, Gaza on March 30, 2018 (Hassan Jedi - Anadolu Agency )

GAZA CITY, Palestine

At least 14 Palestinians were martyred by Israeli army gunfire on Friday -- and at least 1,500 more were injured -- near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border with Israel, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

“Since Friday morning, Gaza's hospitals have received the bodies of at least 14 martyrs,” ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told Anadolu Agency.

Al-Qidra identified the slain Palestinians as Mohammed Kamal al-Najjar; Mahmoud Abu Muammar; Mohamed Abu Omar; Jihad Freina; Ahmed Ibrahim Odeh; Mahmoud Rahmi; Ibrahim Abu Shaar; Abdul-Fattah Bahjat; Abdulkader Hawajre; Sari Abu Odeh; and Hamdan Abu Amsheh.

“Gaza hospitals have also received 1,500 injured demonstrators from all over the Gaza Strip,” al-Qidra said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday as a day of national mourning in honor of the martyred Palestinians, according to the official WAFA news agency.

While the Palestinian government condemned the “disproportionate attacks of Israeli forces”, it also called on the international community to help stop the bloodshed.

Since Friday morning, tens of thousands of Gazans have converged on the strip’s roughly 45-kilometer-long eastern border with Israel to reaffirm their right to return to their ancestral homes in historical Palestine.

Only hours before the marches kicked off Friday morning, a Palestinian farmer was killed when an Israeli artillery shell struck his land in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israel has reportedly deployed thousands of troops along the border in anticipation of Friday’s mass demonstrations.

Dubbed the “Great Return March”, the demonstrations are also intended to pressure Israel to lift its decade-long blockade of Gaza.

The rallies have been endorsed by virtually all Palestinian political factions, which have repeatedly stressed the event’s peaceful nature.

Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has suffered from a crippling Israeli/Egyptian blockade that has gutted its economy and deprived its more than 2 million inhabitants of many vital commodities.


Land Day

Friday’s rallies in the Gaza Strip coincide with Palestinian “Land Day”, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976.

On March 30 of that year, Palestinians in the northern Galilee region demonstrated against Israel’s seizure of large tracts of Arab land, prompting Israeli troops to enter the region in force.

Demonstrations first erupted in the town of Deir Hanna, which had earlier been the target of severe oppression by Israeli police.

This was followed by further protests in the town of Arrabeh, during which one Palestinian was killed -- and dozens more injured -- by Israeli forces.

The Palestinian's death triggered widespread demonstrations -- and violent clashes with Israeli troops -- in several other Arab communities, in which another six Palestinians were killed.

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