Crowds diminish but tensions remain at Gaza border

Organizers expect many to come back on Friday, when schools and businesses are closed for the Muslim sabbath.

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during clashes during a protest along the Israel border with Gaza, east of Gaza City March 30, 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during clashes during a protest along the Israel border with Gaza, east of Gaza City March 30, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
A tense calm descended on the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, where hundreds of Palestinians, a fraction of the tens of thousands who initially turned out, remained in tent encampments along the 65-km. border fence.
Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Health Ministry, said in a Facebook post that Israeli security forces hit a young Palestinian in the head with live fire on Sunday near Khan Yunis in the southern border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip, critically wounding him.
An IDF spokeswoman said while she was not aware of any specific cases of Palestinians being shot in the head, she had been informed that Israeli soldiers “opened fire on two suspects in southern Gaza who had approached the border fence and posed a threat to Israel’s security.”
Qidra did not identify the Palestinian’s name or age, but said medical teams were still working to improve his condition as of late Sunday afternoon.
Organizers expect many more protesters to come back on Friday, when schools and businesses are closed for the Muslim sabbath, and rejoin the planned six-week protest pressing for right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
Hundreds ignored calls by protest organizers and by the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier. The military said some of those shot in confrontations since Friday had fired at soldiers, rolled burning tires and hurled rocks and fire bombs toward the border.
“I was just standing there when I felt something hit my leg and it pushed me to the ground,” the boy, Bashar Wahdan, told Reuters. The bullet cut through blood vessels and broke a bone.
At his bedside, Bashar’s father said he had no idea his son had gone to the protest.
The Israeli military accused Hamas of “cynically exploiting women and children” by sending them to the fence. A Hamas spokesman called the allegations “lies aimed at justifying the massacres.”
On Saturday, Israeli troops using live ammunition and rubber bullets shot and wounded about 70 Palestinian demonstrators at the border, Palestinian officials said. Witnesses said stones were thrown at the soldiers.
Doctors at Gaza’s crowded Al-Shifa hospital said they were running out of medicine and other supplies.
The protest is scheduled to culminate on May 15, when Palestinians mark what they call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe,” an annual day of commemoration of the displacement surrounding Israel’s founding in 1948. Israel has long ruled out any right of return.
On Sunday, In the past week, several IDF officials have called on Palestinians not to approach the border fence, warning them that they would be putting themselves in danger.
The IDF killed 15 Palestinians in the protest on Friday, according to Qidra. The army said that protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces, opened fire on them, attempted to infiltrate Israel’s borders and set rubber tires afire. It also said that 10 of the people killed belong to armed groups in Gaza.
United Nations Secretary- General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into what transpired in the border area on Friday.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.