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Fears of fresh violence in new Gaza protest

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Palestinian men drive a trailer loaded with tyres in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 5, 2018. AFP

Gaza City (AFP) – Palestinians readied yesterday for new protests along the Gaza border and Israel warned that its open-fire rules would not change as fears of fresh violence rose a week after the bloodiest day in years.

Thousands of Palestinians are again expected to gather at five spots near the Gaza border today, while Israeli soldiers and snipers will take up positions on the other side of the fence.

Protest organisers said they were planning to try to stop smaller numbers of protesters approaching the fence and hurling stones or rolling burning tyres at Israeli troops, who killed 18 Palestinians last Friday.

It was the bloodiest day since a 2014 war. Another two Gazans have been killed since.

But widespread social media calls for protesters to bring tyres to burn and Israel’s pledge to prevent damage to the fence and infiltration attempts have raised fears of more deaths.

Young Palestinians have been gathering tyres and carting them near the border to burn and create a smokescreen to make it harder for Israeli snipers.

Some have been walking the streets collecting money to buy tyres.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed that open-fire rules would not change.

Last Friday’s protest near the Gaza border was attended by tens of thousands of Palestinians.

A smaller number strayed from the main protest and approached the heavily fortified fence on the border with Israel.

Israel says troops opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres at soldiers.

It said there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was also an attempted gun attack against soldiers along the border.

It accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

But questions have mounted over Israel’s use of live fire, with Palestinians saying protesters were fired on while posing no threat to soldiers.

Rights groups have criticised the army’s actions, while the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.

Human Rights Watch called the deaths “calculated” and illegal.

yesterday, an Israeli rights group launched a prominent campaign calling on soldiers to refuse to fire on unarmed Palestinians.

The campaign led Israel’s public security minister to suggest the rights group, B’Tselem, should be investigated for calling for sedition.

Hamas has meanwhile offered compensation of $3,000 to the families of protesters killed and $500 for those seriously injured.

The protests calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their former lands in what is now Israel are supposed to last six weeks, coinciding with the expected opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem in mid-May.

The US embassy move has led to deep anger among Palestinians, who see the annexed eastern sector of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

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