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Israeli forces injure dozens of Palestinians in fresh Gaza protests

An injured Palestinian man is carried by protesters as they run for cover during a protest along the fence with the occupied territories, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip on March 31, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli troops have wounded 49 Palestinians during fresh anti-occupation mass rallies in the Gaza Strip amid global outrage over Tel Aviv's use of force that marked the most violent day in the blockaded coastal sliver in recent years.

The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that the Israeli forces had opened fire at protesters in different Gaza cities, among them Jabalia, Rafah, Khan Yunis and Beit Hanoun.

All the injured were taken to Gaza hospitals, the ministry added.

On Friday, around 30,000 Gazans marched to the fence with the occupied territories at the start of a six-week protest, dubbed "The Great March of Return,"  demanding the right to return to their homeland.

The rallies coincided with the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976.

Friday's demonstrations turned violent after Israeli forces used tear gas and live fire to force back demonstrators who had approached within a few hundred meters of the heavily-fortified fence.

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes at a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, in the southern Gaza Strip on March 31, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

The clashes left 17 Palestinians dead and over 1,400 others injured in Gaza in what was the single deadliest day in the Israel-Palestine conflict since the 2014 war. 

The Return rallies culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948, the year Israel was created.

Israel's Friday massacre of the Palestinians drew condemnations worldwide, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling for “an independent and transparent investigation” into the incident.

EU calls for inquiry into Gaza deaths

Similarly, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has urged a probe into the use of live ammunition by the Israeli military during the deadly Gaza clashes and demanded respect for free speech.

"The EU mourns the loss of life. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims," she said in a statement on Saturday.

"The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation," Mogherini said. "Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected."

US blocks anti-Israel Security Council statement

On Friday,  the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting over the situation in Gaza, but the US blocked a draft statement which urged restraint and called for an "independent and transparent investigation" into Friday's violence. 

The draft statement, proposed by Kuwait, also expressed "grave concern at the situation at the border" fence between Gaza and the occupied lands and reaffirmed "the right to peaceful protest."

It further called "for respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including protection of civilians."

Rights group slams 'illegal' Israeli conduct

Israeli rights group B’Tselem has decried the regime's response to unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, saying demonstration areas should not be dealt with as “combat zones."

"Shooting unarmed demonstrators is illegal and the command that allows it is manifestly illegal," it said in a statement on Saturday.  

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