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New border clashes as Israeli troops fire at Gaza protesters

Palestinian demonstrators set tyres alight near the border with Israel.

Palestinians have torched tyres near Gaza’s border with Israel, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and drawing tear gas and live fire from Israeli soldiers on the other side of the border fence.

Under the cover of smoke, dozens of protesters approached the fence in one area, despite warnings by the Israeli military that those who did so risked their lives.

Activists said they were burning the tyres so the acrid smoke would block the view of Israeli snipers.

Palestinian protesters take cover during clashes with Israeli troops (Adel Hana/AP)

Israel’s military sprayed a thick liquid from water cannons towards the fence, apparently to douse the flames.

Twelve people were wounded by live fire, according to reports from medics and a news website run by Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement.

They included 10 who arrived at a field hospital set up near the border community of Khuzaa, in one of five tent camps for protesters.

Mohammed Ashour, 20, who had been among the first to set tyres on fire, had been shot in the right arm. He rested on a stretcher placed on the ground.

“We came here because we want dignity,” he said before paramedics carried him to an ambulance to be transported to the strip’s main hospital.

Protesters carry tyres towards the border fence (Adel Hana/AP)

Earlier in the day, hundreds of Palestinians had streamed to the five tent camps for what Hamas hoped would be the second mass protest in a week.

Last Friday, more than a dozen protesters were killed by Israeli fire and hundreds injured, Gaza health officials said.

Protesters also moved towards other camps, including east of Gaza City, where a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, greeted the crowd.

Friday’s march is the second in what Gaza’s Hamas rulers said would be several weeks of protests against a decade-old border blockade of the territory.

Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests and said it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs.

Israel’s defence minister has warned that protesters approaching the border fence endanger their lives, drawing condemnation from rights groups that said such seemingly broad open-fire rules are unlawful.

A leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers to refuse “grossly illegal” orders to fire at unarmed protesters.

Last Friday, thousands of Gaza residents participated in the demonstration, many gathering in five tent encampments set up along the narrow coastal strip’s border with Israel, several hundred metres from the fence.

Smaller groups, mostly young men, rushed forward, throwing stones, hurling firebombs and burning tyres and drawing Israeli fire.

In all, 22 Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the past week, including 16 involved in last Friday’s protests, according to Gaza health officials.

The six other deaths were three gunmen killed in what Israel said were attempts to attack the border and three men who were struck by Israeli tank fire.

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