Palestinians Seek Protection as Israel Blasts `Terrorist' March

Israeli and Palestinian leaders blamed each other for the deaths of at least 16 Palestinians who were part of a mass protest along the Gaza border, with each side lobbing threats of escalating the violence.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was “fully responsible” for killing his countrymen on Friday, and a video appearing to show an unarmed teenager being gunned down by Israeli sniper fire circulated on Palestinian media.

The Israeli army argued that Gazan militants were using civilian protesters as cover as they fired at soldiers and tried to lay explosives near the border fence. The protest, which peaked at 30,000 participants on Friday and will run for the next six weeks, is “an organized terrorist operation,” the Israeli army said in a tweet on Saturday. Hamas said Friday that five of the dead were members of its military wing.

“What we saw yesterday were attempts to launch rockets, attempts to carry out live attacks, Molotov cocktails, attempts to set fire to the security fence, and a lot of terrorist activity,” the Israel Defense Force said in separate tweets. “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed. We are only interested in terrorists who are trying to disrupt Israeli life; we only act against them.”

Increased Force

The Israeli army warned that it would increase its response should the violence continue. Abbas said Palestinians needed international protection from Israel, and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an independent inquiry into Friday’s deaths.

The protests come amid growing tensions over President Donald Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as a yet-to-be-released U.S. peace plan that Abbas has already pledged to reject. Abbas severed all official Palestinian contact with the White House in December after Trump announced plans to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Hamas planned the protests against the Palestinian displacement resulting from Israel’s founding in 1948 to culminate with the date of U.S. embassy move. The demonstrations began Friday with tent camps set up a half-mile from Gaza’s 25-mile (40-kilometer) frontier with Israel. The climax is to come in mid-May with a mass march to the border, which Israel fears will become an attempt to breach its territory.

Protest Escalates

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