Israeli troops have shot dead a Palestinian protester in Gaza as thousands in the Palestinian territories, Israel and neighboring countries participated in an annual protest against the Jewish state’s land policies.
On Friday, security forces in riot gear deployed in high numbers along the frontiers of Israel and the Palestinian territories in anticipation of a repeat of violence from different protests last year, in which at least 38 people died near the borders with Lebanon and Syria.
However, for the most part, protests were small and organizers kept demonstrators from actually marching on the borders.
The “Land Day” rallies are an annual event marked by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies.
Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said Israeli forces shot and killed Mahmoud Zaqout, 21, and critically wounded another man as they were approaching the Israel-Gaza border during a demonstration of a few thousand people organized by the territory’s Hamas rulers.
The Israeli military said troops fired warning shots before shooting directly at Zaqout, in accordance with the army’s rules of engagement.
The military said it responded to protesters with tear gas in addition to gunfire.
Abu Salmia said an additional 37 protesters throughout Gaza were lightly injured, while the Israeli military put the number at about 29.
By midday, skirmishes had broken out between protesters and security forces in the Jerusalem area. Palestinians threw rocks and Israeli troops responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber pellets.
Dozens of Palestinians were treated for light wounds in hospitals throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem, including four with serious head wounds from rubber pellets and one hit in the head by a tear gas canister, said Mohammed Ayyad, a spokesman for the Red Crescent medical service in Ramallah.
Last year, demonstrators from Lebanon and Syria tried twice to break across the borders into Israel, setting off clashes with Israeli troops in which at least 38 people were killed.
The first unrest occurred in May, on the anniversary of Israel’s birth in 1948, a day the Palestinians refer to as the nakba, or catastrophe. The second took place a month later when demonstrators marked the naksa, or setback, the term the Palestinians use for the defeat in the 1967 Middle East war.
During that war, Israel conquered the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai peninsula from Egypt in just six days of fighting. Israel returned Sinai to Egypt under a 1979 peace accord and withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
In southern Lebanon on Friday, thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians gathered outside the Crusader-built Beaufort castle 15km from Israel. Lebanese security forces kept them from moving any closer to the border.
Sobhiyeh Mizari, 70, said she always taught her 12 children “never to forget Palestine.”
“We will liberate our land against the will of Israel and its backers,” said Mizari, who said her husband was killed in Israeli shelling of Lebanon in 1978.
Among the protesters in Lebanon were rabbis from the Orthodox Jewish sect Neturei Karta, a radical anti-Israel group that believes Jews must live without a country of their own until the coming of the Messiah.