Today’s death toll has risen to 15 with many hundreds more wounded.
With worries that numbers will continue to rise, Israeli snipers killed at least nine Palestinians and injured hundreds more as an estimated 20,000 gathered along the Gaza-Israel border for the launch of the six-week “March of Great Return” on Friday.
The beginning of the march coincides with the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, when Palestinians worldwide commemorate six who were killed by Israeli forces for protesting settlements in 1976.
Ahead of the demonstrations, Gadi Eizenkot, Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), gave soldiers permission to open fire on mass demonstrations “in the event of mortal danger” and announced that Israeli forces would deploy more than 100 snipers.
“The instructions are to use a lot of force,” Eizenkot told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
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Organizers of the protesters, meanwhile, have encouraged marchers to remain nonviolent, and according to the Ma’an News Agency, “Dozens of signs have been set up across the border in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, saying ‘We are not here to fight; we are here to return to our lands.'”
Palestinian protesters have set up tents along the border, and demonstrations are slated to continue through May 15, Reuters reports, “the day Palestinians call the ‘Nakba’ or ‘Catastrophe,’ marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.”
That’s also when the U.S. Embassy is scheduled to open in Jerusalem, after President Donald Trump annnounced last year that he would recognize the city as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv, provoking international condemnation.
“Despite march organizers and Palestinian politicians maintaining that the march be a non-violent one,” Ma’an News Agency reports, “Israeli officials have called the protests ‘violent riots.'”
Though Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed some protesters on Friday, declaring that “our people went out today to make it clear that we will not give up Jerusalem and that there is no alternative to Palestine and the right of return,” advocates for Palestinians countered the narrative that is being pushed by Israeli officials.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, tweeted Friday:
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