In Gaza City, pickup trucks and motorized rickshaws busily ferried piles of tires toward the border fence with Israel on Thursday as Palestinians planned for another day of protests on Friday, hoping that the thick black smoke from burning rubber would frustrate Israeli snipers. In Israel, officials defended the lethal tactics used by the military at last Friday's protest, which killed 19 Gazans. They insisted they would not back off during the second round of protests against Israel's longstanding blockade of Gaza. Pointing to a series of armed attacks along the Gaza border since mid-February, the Israeli Army's chief spokesman on Thursday accused Hamas, the militant group that rules the territory, of seeking to turn the area into a battlefield. The Israelis claim that Hamas is using women and children as human shields and burning tires to create a smoke screen, all to provide cover for violent attempts to penetrate the fence and attack Israelis.
The latest escalation in violence occurred after weeks of deadly protests, arson attacks and armed clashes along Gaza's border with Israel. Islamic Jihad began firing heavy barrages of mortar shells around 7 a.m. on Tuesday, in retaliation for an Israeli strike that killed three of its members on Sunday. The Israeli military said that the strike had been in response to the planting of an explosive the night before along the security fence dividing Gaza from Israel. The device was neutralized and caused no injuries. Tensions had been building for weeks, with as many as 120 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since March 30, most of them by snipers during protests along the border and half of them in a single day, on May 14, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The last Friday of Ramadan again brought thousands of Palestinians to the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel for a day of peaceful protests, or violent riots, depending on which side you support in the conflict. For me, it was a chance to see things the way Israeli soldiers do. From the drive through smoldering fields and scorched earth to the berms atop which snipers peer through powerful binoculars to compensate for the fog of war -- or whatever this fight should be called -- there were new signs of damage and destruction, new adjustments in tactics on both sides, but few reasons to think the clashes would end anytime soon.
"We want to go back to our lands," she said. At the Shifa hospital, relatives clustered around the beds of dozens of young men with leg wounds. In all, about 1,700 were hospitalized with various wounds, according to Palestinian officials. Mariam as-Sahar stood over her son, Adnan, 18, a high school student who had been shot in the knee by an Israeli sniper as he sat in a field a few hundred feet from the fence. Concern etched Ms. Sahar's face as her son winced in pain, but like many in the crowded wards, her tone was calm.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along Gaza's border with Israel on Friday to vent their pent-up frustration in a protest that quickly turned violent, with Israeli forces killing 15 at the border fence. As many as 30,000 arrived early in the day at tent encampments on Gaza's side of the fence to stage what was billed as the start of a peaceful, six-week sit-in. They were protesting against Israel's longstanding blockade of the territory and in support of their claims to return to homes in what is now Israel. But as some began hurling stones, tossing Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires at the fence, the Israelis responded with tear gas and gunfire. The Israelis said they also exchanged fire with two gunmen across the fence and fired at two others who tried to infiltrate into Israel.