ISRAELI forces killed 15 Palestinians as tens of thousands from that country gathered along Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday to vent their pent-up frustration in a protest.
About 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.
Friday’s flare-up, ignited by isolation and economic deprivation, was the worst in years in the small Mediterranean enclave. In recent years, neighboring Egypt has joined Israel in the blockade, and the Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, has imposed sanctions. With the territory’s economy collapsing, fears of an explosive backlash have mounted.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which it describes as a security imperative, is more than decade old and restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the Palestinian territory.
The protest came at a particularly charged time, as Jews prepared for the start of the Passover holiday on Friday evening, and as Palestinians observed Land Day. The day commemorates the events of March 30, 1976, when Israeli security forces shot and killed six Arab citizens of Israel during protests over the government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel.
The Palestinian organizers of the protest bused men, women and children to tent encampments that popped up in recent days about 700 yards from the border with Israel. They intended for the six-week campaign to culminate in a mass march toward Israel, putting Israeli officials on edge.
Even before the protests started, Israel began a campaign to hold the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for any violence. The country’s hard-line defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned Gazans to keep away from the border in a post on Twitter in Arabic.