Four Palestinian demonstrators have been killed and more than 300 injured in clashes with the Israeli army on the Gaza border since Friday night, the Gaza Health Ministry said yesterday.
Violence erupted between demonstrators and Israeli soldiers stationed on the Israel-Gaza border, as tens of thousands demonstrated to mark the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return protests.
The Israeli army, which put the number of protesters at 40,000,
accused participants of throwing rocks and setting tyres on fire. In addition, a number of grenades and explosive devices were hurled at the border fence, it said.
Witnesses said Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and live gunfire at
the demonstrators to keep them from approaching the fence.
The Israeli army warned Gazans not to approach the fence during the protests, calling on them to keep a distance of 300m away.
The army said that troops had fired "in accordance with standard operating procedures."
Hundreds of Palestinian men, some from Hamas, were deployed in bright orange vests to deter people from going near the fence. There was also less acrid black smoke swirling around with little sign of tyre-burning, as on previous weekends.
The Gazan Health Ministry said yesterday evening that at least 316 Palestinians had been injured. Of those, 64 sustained gunshots wounds. Others were hurt by shrapnel, exposure to tear gas or being hit by tear gas canisters.
The Great March of Return protests, which have been taking place every week since they began a year ago, call for the right of return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the territory of today's Israel, as well as for an end to the 12-year-long blockade imposed by Israel.
A general strike was held in the Gaza Strip and the Health Ministry and Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency.
Governmental and private sector institutions were closed, including schools, universities and stores all in the Gaza Strip, except medical institutions, clinics and hospitals.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 269 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured in the protests since they started one year ago.
The anniversary coincides with Land Day, which commemorates the death of six Arab Israelis who were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the expropriation of land by Israel in 1976.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement: "The suffering of our people over 100 years and the enormous sacrifices made by this great people will not go to waste."
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the day had "lots of rioters but significantly less violence", adding that it showed Hamas was able to stop violence when it wanted to.
But many protesters still managed to get near the border and throw stones at Israeli soldiers.