Clashes as thousands of Gazans march near Israel border


Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Thousands of Palestinians marched near the Gaza-Israel border on Friday in a major protest leading to clashes with Israeli forces, in which more than 50 Gazans were wounded.

At least 10,000 Gazans gathered in different spots along the border, AFP journalists said, with smaller numbers entering within a few hundreds metres (yards) of the heavily fortified fence.

Israeli tanks and snipers were positioned on the other side of the border, using tear gas and live fire to force back the protesters.

Moe than 50 people were wounded by live fire, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Israel's military said in a statement that "thousands of Palestinians are rioting in six locations throughout the Gaza Strip, rolling burning tyres and hurling stones at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators."

Earlier Friday, before the main protests began, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli tank fire near the border.

The Israeli military said the tank fire came after "two suspects approached the security fence ... and began operating suspiciously."

The march kicks off up to six weeks of protests dubbed "The Great March of Return," in the runup to the inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem around May 14.

Among those taking part on Friday was Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Islamist movement Hamas that controls Gaza.

"There is no alternative to Palestine and no solution except to return," he said in a statement, referring to Palestinian refugees seeking to go back to land they fled or were expelled from in 1948 that is now inside Israel.

Israel has accused Hamas of seeking to stir up protests to encourage violence.