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Israel deploys snipers, tanks ahead of Gaza protests

Palestinian protesters take cover after Israeli forces fire tear gas during the 'Great March of Return' in Gaza on 4 April 2018 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

Israel has deployed additional military forces to the Gaza border in preparation for planned protests today as part of the Great March of Return.

The military expects some 50,000 protesters to gather at the border fence as a continuation of the demonstrations which started on Palestine Land Day last week. Some 16 Gazans were shot by Israeli forces on the first day of the protests, with the death toll rising to 20 over the past week. Protesters are calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, to what is now Israel.

Gazans have been bringing tents thousands of tyres to burn since yesterday, in what has become known as "The Friday of Tyres." They say they intend to use mirrors and laser pointers to prevent Israeli sharpshooters from targeting them.

Israel's rules of engagement during the demonstrations are to remain unchanged, meaning that snipers will be permitted to shoot at anyone on who approaches the Gaza side of the fence. Human rights organizations in the country and international groups have criticized this protocol, which they say led to the unjustified killing of unarmed Palestinians. Israeli rights group B'Tselem, has appealed to Israeli soldiers to refuse any "grossly illegal" orders to fire at unarmed protesters.

Read: International commission to sue Israel over killing Palestinian protesters

Hospitals in Gaza have reportedly been forced to discharge seriously ill patients in an effort to clear beds, as they anticipate having to admit dozens of injured protesters later today. Whilst according to Palestinians, the majority of demonstrators have been at least 100 metres away from the fence and were unarmed, Israel has accused the protest of being organised by Hamas.

The Israel Foreign Ministry further stressed its position on Twitter yesterday, in a series of tweets addressing foreign journalists, in which the ministry attempts to convince media outlets that Hamas is using the protests to target the Israeli border.

The US has also directed its criticism at Palestinian leaders. "We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed," President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said in a statement yesterday.

The UN has called on both sides to show restraint, with Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process stating: "Demonstrations must be peaceful. Civilians, particularly children, must not be intentionally put in danger or targeted in any way."

The EU has also called upon "all sides, to act with utmost responsibility and restraint in order to avoid a repetition of last week's violence and to refrain from any actions that could lead to further escalation or loss of life."

Read: Hamas asks Arab League to take Israel to the ICC

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