Israeli troops killed two Palestinians and wounded scores of others taking part in weekly Gaza border protests on Friday, medics said, as Egyptian mediators tried to clinch a truce deal that would calm the impoverished enclave.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Health, Ashraf Al-Qudra, confirmed that 30-year-old Karim Abu Fattair from Al-Bureij, and 26-year-old Sa’di Akram Muammar from Rafah were both killed.
Over 20,000 people participated in Friday’s protests, which took place a few hundred meters from the fence, though dozens came closer, with some rolling burning tyres, witnesses said.
Medics said Israeli gunfire killed two men and wounded at least 270 other Palestinians, 50 of them with live bullets. Of the injured, 166 were treated in field hospitals while 104 were transferred to hospitals in Gaza. Nineteen children and nine paramedics were amongst those targetted.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops had responded with “riot-dispersal means” to prevent breaches of the border.
After a more than four-month surge in confrontations over the Gaza Strip border, Israel this week eased its clampdown on the enclave’s commercial traffic and fishing. Cairo said it was finalising details of a longer-term accommodation between Israel and the dominant Palestinian group Hamas.
Friday’s deaths brought to 170 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since the weekly protests began on March 30. The campaign is pressing for rights to land that Palestinians lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its foundation, and for an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
Anger in Gaza has also been stoked by funding cuts by the Western-backed administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which dominates the West Bank and is the rival of Hamas, which runs Gaza. Their efforts at agreeing on a power-sharing unity deal with Egyptian mediation have not borne fruit.
Cairo had no immediate comment on Friday’s incidents.
Hamas official Izzat Reshiq said the group, and other Palestinian factions, concluded a round of talks with Egyptian security officials over a possible truce with Israel and that further talks were scheduled for later this month.
“Efforts will resume after the holiday of Eid Al-Adha,” Reshiq said on Twitter, referring to a Muslim festival that begins on August 21 and ends on August 24.
Israel sees the Gaza protests as a bid by Hamas, against which it has fought three wars in the last decade, to use civilians as cover for cross-border attacks. Hamas denies this.