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Clashes erupt as Gazans gather at fence for new mass protest against Israel

Palestinians men carry a man injured during clashes with Israeli forces at the site of a tent protest in support of Palestinian refugees returning to lands, on April 4, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Clashes have broken out between Palestinians and Israeli troops near Gaza’s fence as large groups of protesters gather for what is expected to be the largest anti-occupation rally since last Friday, when the Israeli military shot and killed 20 unarmed demonstrators.

Agence France-Presse said one person appeared to have been shot east of Gaza City Friday but his condition was not immediately clear. 

Hundreds of protesters gathered in locations near the fence east of Khan Yunis, in the south of the blockaded Palestinian enclave, and east of Gaza City, with their numbers expected to reach some 30,000 later on Friday.

The protests are part of a six-week rally dubbed the “Great March of Return” which began last Friday. They turned violent when Israeli military forces used lethal force to disperse the protesters.

Earlier on Friday, another Palestinian died of gunshot wounds suffered last week, bringing the death toll from Israel’s brutal crackdown to 20. Some 1,500 people were also injured.

Thousands of Palestinians have stayed in tent encampments near the fence over the past week.

On Friday, mounds of tires were set up which were to be lit on fire throughout the day in what Gazan protesters want to be a smokescreen from Israeli snipers.

Israel has deployed tanks, armored vehicles and special forces near the fence and given shoot-to-kill permission to its troops. 

According to AFP, troops took up positions across a ridge on the other side of the fence and set up a giant fan about two meters high in an apparent bid to push away the smoke.

On the eve of the new rally, Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli minister for military affairs, threatened that the military would continue to fire at Gazans if they approached the fence.

AFP quoted 20-year-old Ahmed Abu Ghali saying that he "will be a martyr today" as he held up his shirt to show his still seeping wound from last week that required 40 stitches.

"I was wounded last Friday but escaped yesterday from hospital," he said. 

Israel has warned that its open-fire rules remained unchanged for Friday's protests despite international outcry, including by UN chief Antonio Guterres who called for restraint.

"I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully," he said in a statement.

Palestinians say protesters were shot while posing no threat to soldiers, and videos that have spread online have fueled their accusations.

Human Rights Watch has called the actions by the Israeli troops "calculated" and illegal. Guterres and the European Union have called for an independent investigation, which Israel has outright rejected.

In the Gaza Strip, almost 1.3 million of the small territory’s two million inhabitants are refugees, demanding their right to return to their pre-1948 homes.

The protests are slated to continue until 15 May, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Israeli forces in 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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