GAZA CITY – A Palestinian teenager was killed and several others were wounded Tuesday as Israeli troops fired on protesters near the Gaza border while Israeli Arabs and Palestinians marked “Land Day.”
The violence along the tense Gaza border came as events were held across Israel and the occupied territories in an annual commemoration of Israel’s killing of six Arab citizens during a 1976 protest against land confiscations.
A 15-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed al-Faramawi, was shot dead east of the southern Gaza town of Rafah near the heavily guarded border shortly before dozens of demonstrators marched to the site.
Gaza medics and witnesses said he was killed by Israeli forces, charges denied by the Israeli military, which said it had fired warning shots at those approaching the border but had not hit anyone.
“Following an examination of the Gaza division, we are not familiar with any incident of a Palestinian being hit by IDF (Israeli military) fire,” a spokesman said.
In a similar incident east of the town of Khan Yunis, hundreds of demonstrators marched to the border and hurled rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with live fire, witnesses said.
The demonstration took place near the site of fierce clashes last weekend that killed two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians and shook the relative quiet along the border since the 2008-2009 Gaza war.
Gaza emergency services chief Muawiya Hassanein said children were among the 10 people who were wounded. One of them, nine-year-old Raid Abu Namus, was in serious condition, medics at a nearby hospital said.
Another Palestinian, 14, was shot in a similar incident near the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, according to Hassanein.
The army said troops opened fire because these border areas were no-go zones for Palestinians.
“The area near the fence is a war zone repeatedly used by Palestinians to plant explosives, dig tunnels and kidnap soldiers,” an army spokesman said, adding soldiers had acted “in accordance with procedure.”
The borders of the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza have been mostly quiet since a 22-day Israeli assault on the territory launched in December 2008 that killed some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
The offensive largely succeeded in halting years of near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israel, but recent weeks have seen a rise in such attacks, and a Thai labourer in Israel was killed earlier this month.
Israel’s Arab minority leads Land Day demonstrations every year to protest against discrimination and assert its solidarity with the Palestinians. Similar events are held in the occupied West Bank as well as Gaza.
In Israel, thousands of people gathered in the mostly Arab northern town of Sakhnin where they waved Palestinian flags.
Some demonstrators carried the green banners of the Israeli Arab Islamic movement, as well as portraits of senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of the Lebanese Hezbollah.
“Land Day has become for us a day to assert our existence and our belonging,” said Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab MP serving in Israel’s parliament.
“It’s a day to embrace our memory of Palestine and our belonging to it, our homes and schools and playgrounds which have faced a campaign of concealment. It’s a day to embrace our future,” he told AFP.
Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens are the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the Middle East war that broke out after the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
They can vote, and their standard of living is far higher than that of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but they say they are still treated as second-class citizens.
In February 2006, the Supreme Court recognized Israeli Arabs faced discrimination.
In the occupied West Bank the Palestinian Authority planted olive trees in honour of the event, and Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad took part in a Land Day protest near the town of Salfit.