We previously reported the deadly encounter along the Israeli-Gaza border on Friday afternoon during a series of massive protests which took place near the security fence surrounding the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. By the day's end an astounding casualty toll hit world headlines after Israel used live bullets to quell what it called "rioting": the BBC reports 16 Palestinians dead and over 400 wounded by live Israeli fire.
And hundreds of others were reported wounded by rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and in the general ensuing chaos. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have admitted to using live ammunition - and not just the rubber bullets more commonly used to disperse protests - claiming that marchers entered a declared "a closed military zone" and threatened Israeli security positions.
At that point the IDF said it commenced "firing towards the main instigators" to disperse the "rioting" crowd that including stone throwing and the hurling of petrol bombs toward Israeli positions. Among those killed by Israeli live fire was a 16-year old boy, according to Palestinian health officials.
There were an estimated 17,000 Palestinians in five locations along the border fence. Image source: Times of Israel.
New footage continues to emerge of what Gazans dubbed "Great Return March" protests which were originally envisioned to span six weeks - though it's unclear how Friday's events and Israel's ongoing crackdown, which activists are calling a massacre, will affect Gazans' and Palestinians' ability to organize. UN Security Council members met in New York to call for an investigation into the violence.
Drone footage of the early part of Friday's march shows a massive column of Palestinian protesters moving toward the border. According the BBC, citing the IDF, there were about 17,000 Palestinians in five locations along the border fence. Some Israeli sources have cited 20,000 marchers.
New drone footage shows the extent to Friday's "Great Return March" in Gaza:
Further footage published online by Palestinian activists circulated widely late Friday and early Saturday, and appear to show instances of Palestinians shot down in cold blood.
These included scenes of protesters running through open fields without any identifiable weapons, and one instance of a man shot while praying (warning: mature content):
The IDF's gonna have a hard time saying this guy fell off his bike... pic.twitter.com/BCkC5KrOWi— Jacob Magid (@JacobMagid) March 30, 2018
Israeli media, including the Israeli daily Haaretz, has confirmed instances of Palestinians being shot in the back while running away from the Israeli security zone.
Gaza footage shows protester shot in the back while running away from Israeli border wall https://t.co/kDOkMg5Xo0— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) March 31, 2018
758 people injured by Israeli army with live ammunition in Gaza today, only 148 with rubber bullets. Normally would expect ratios reversed - rubber more. Seems to indicate shift in Israeli army policy today (Source: Palestinian health ministry)— Joe (@joedyke) March 30, 2018
In a now deleted tweet posted Friday, the official IDF twitter account admitted Israeli forces shot live rounds toward Israelis along the border fence. The tweet stated, "Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed."
Likely, the rising death toll throughout the day and immediate international media attention covering the voilence caused the IDF to delete the statement.
Israeli military tweeted earlier "we know where every bullet landed" in Gaza. Reporters asked repeatedly how many live rounds were fired + how many people were hit but a spokesman said they didn't have figures.— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) March 31, 2018
They've since deleted the tweet. pic.twitter.com/EUGbnTICuw
During the State Department's daily press briefing on Thursday - a day before the border violence - spokesperson Heather Nauert was asked about the possibility of a "bloodbath" unfolding based on widely circulating reports that Israel would deploy snipers in response to the planned protests.
Nauert objected to the word choice of the possibility of a "bloodbath" - though ironically that is exactly what happened the following day.
Nauert said, "I certainly hope you're wrong. We don't like to hear excessive language in conjunction with an area that is so sensitive... Overall Israel has a right to defend itself... we hope things remain calm."
When @SMArikat yesterday warned Heather that #Israel deploying 100 snipers for #GreatReturnMarch in #Palestine, could result in a "bloodbath" she objected to his use of the term. So far 13 Palestinians have been murdered & 100's injured. A bloodbath indeed. #يوم_الأرض #فلسطين pic.twitter.com/yVugjqs2Vy— Walid (@walid970721) March 30, 2018
* * *
Friday’s demonstrations mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all of Palestine, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared in a speech at the scene of the mass protests in the Gaza Strip.
“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,” he said and added that the March of Return was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump to the effect that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem and “Palestine.”
Previously Palestinians have also demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
Khaled al-Batsh, the leader of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group, which is also among the planners of the protest, said tents would be located 500 meters from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel. The protest comes amid rising tensions as the United States prepares to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.