7 killed, scores wounded by Israeli fire in Gaza protest

Israel hints it’s ready for hostage swap with Hamas

Gaza's Health Ministry said Saturday that Murtaja succumbed to his wounds along with another person, raising Friday's death toll to nine.

Murtaja was covering a mass demonstration along the Gaza border, and was shot despite wearing a blue flak jacket with the words "PRESS", clearly indicating that he was a journalist and not a protestor. A leading Israeli rights group, B'Tselem, issued a rare appeal to Israeli soldiers this week to refuse "grossly illegal" open-fire orders. Meanwhile, dozens of journalists gathered in Manara Square in Ramallah in the West Bank to protest Murtaja's death, the WAFA News Agency reported.

Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel's 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day - when the Palestinians mark what they call the "catastrophe" that befell them with Israel's creation.

According to the ministry, Israel is still holding the bodies of two martyred Palestinians since last week.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the army was looking into the incident and could not comment further at this stage.

Protesters on Friday said Gaza's economic woes were also fuelling frustration. He is in hospital awaiting surgery after being shot in the hand, he said.

Video footage showed Murtaja being carried to an ambulance with crowds around and black smoke rising from where protesters had set tyres alight, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Army said they stopped scores of attempts by the protesters to illegally cross the border and enter Israel.

A senior Hamas leader said that Friday's protest would see Palestinians "sending a message that our struggle is without arms and guns, and we will wait and see if the world receives the message, and pressures Israel to stop its crimes against our people".

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians streamed to five tent encampments set up at various points several hundred metres from the border fence.

Protesters on Friday said economic woes were also fuelling frustration in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade.

Israeli forces fired tear gas and live rounds in response to what they described as "rioting". A well-known Palestinian journalist was among the dead, Gaza officials said.

The Israeli military and officials have repeatedly said they will not allow any breach of the fence, and that those who do not abide by the rules of engagement will be shot.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar threatened Israel on Friday, saying Hamas would hit Israel if Israel strikes inside Gaza.

Israel has denied that protests are peaceful and claims that soldiers are forced to fire into the crowd because the terrorist group Hamas is using the crowds to make gains on the border.

Residents of blockaded Gaza began what has been billed as six weeks of demonstrations against Israel a week ago.

The military said that on Friday, protesters hurled several explosive devices and firebombs, using the thick plumes of smoke from burning tires as a cover, and that several attempts to cross the fence were thwarted.



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