Four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces in Gaza Strip: ministry

Khalil Hamra

Two Palestinians have been killed and 12 wounded by the Israeli Forces in fresh unrest on the Gaza border area on Friday, as six-week-long protests had entered their fourth round.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed that 25-year-old Ahmad Nabil Abu Aqel succumbed to wounds sustained during protests in eastern Jabaliya, when Israeli soldiers shot him in the head.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets at crowds gathered near the barriers between Israel and Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Asaad Abu Shariek, a spokesman for the Great March of Return, said the movement was hoping the large turnout would sway worldwide opinion against Israel.

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, and other factions have supported the protests.

Despite the warnings, two Palestinians were killed and 12 wounded by Israeli gunfire, Palestinian health officials said, bringing the death toll in the past few weeks of protests to at least 33. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from homes in the 1948 war over Israel's creation. Some of the activists threw stones toward the fence or flew kites with flaming rags dangling from their tails.

Israel's Intelligence minister, Israel Katz, said on Friday that targeted killings of Hamas leadership will be renewed if Islamic Jihad follows through on Thursday's threats to kill Israeli soldiers and generals.

The "March of Return" is set to climax on May 15, when Israel will mark 70 years of independence - a day Palestinians mark as the "nakba" ("catastrophe" in Arabic) - and the United States will cut the ribbon on its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.

On the eve of Friday's protests, a group of young people worked with coloured paper and empty coke bottles under a tree in an olive orchard hundreds of metres from the Israeli border east of Gaza City.

The kites are part of a new tactic aimed at setting wheat fields on the Israeli side on fire. Most kites showed the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Israel's Foreign Ministry tweeted a photograph of one kite daubed with a swastika flying through the sky trailing flames.

In preparation for the expected protests, Israeli authorities also dropped leaflets in Gaza overnight warning people against attending demonstrations and accusing the protests of being a front for Hamas to attack the border. It has said snipers only target the "main instigators". It has also accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover to commit acts of violence.

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