Gaza Border Violence Subsides As Palestinians Mourn

Mar 31, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to the border between Israel and Gaza, where at least 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, and more than 1,000 were injured yesterday. It was the single deadliest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2014. It began when tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the Gaza border. Now, there are questions about the demonstrators and Israel's use of force. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem to tell us more. Daniel, thanks so much for joining us.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Sure thing.

MARTIN: So could you start with what prompted these big demonstrations yesterday?

ESTRIN: Well, this was in the works for weeks, a rally at the Gaza border called The March of Return. It was supposed to be a symbolic Palestinian demonstration to demand to return to lands that Palestinians lost that are today in Israel. So tents were actually set up along the Gaza border in a protest that's supposed to last six weeks. The militant group, Hamas, that rules in Gaza was a major driving force encouraging this protest. And yesterday, about 30,000 Palestinians went near the border, including many women and children.

The Israeli army says some got close to the border and threw rocks, rolled burning tires. Some tried to cut through the border fence. The Israeli army fired tear gas and rubber bullets and also live fire. Israel thought that masses of Palestinians might try to cross the border and to march into Israel. That did not happen. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today, thanked soldiers for protecting Israel's borders and for allowing Israelis to celebrate a quiet Passover.

MARTIN: Now, what's happened so far today? Was there any more violence?

ESTRIN: Today, there were few minor skirmishes reported, nothing like what we saw yesterday. The Palestinian Authority declared today a day of mourning. There were funerals held for those killed. The Israeli army threatened to expand its response if violence continues. So it was mostly quiet, but there was this war of accusations that erupted between the two sides about what exactly happened yesterday.

MARTIN: Tell us more about that. What are some of the accusations that are surfacing about what happened?

ESTRIN: One question is about how many people were wounded. Palestinian health officials in Gaza said that more than 1,400 Palestinians were wounded, including about 750 hit by live Israeli fire. An Israeli military spokesman, though, said that was a complete lie. He claimed only tens of Palestinians were wounded by live fire and that other injuries were like from tear gas inhalation.

Another question is, who was killed? Israel says those who were shot at were not innocent protesters but that they were terrorists affiliated with militant groups who tried to cut through the border fence. Hamas said, yes, five of our fighters were killed. But there are also some videos that have surfaced that appear to show some Palestinians getting shot when they appeared not to be posing any kind of immediate danger. And the Israeli army has dismissed some of these videos, saying, you know, that's only part of the story or some of them are fabricated and that soldiers fired only when necessary.

MARTIN: And, Daniel, before we let you go, I want to touch on something you mentioned earlier. You're saying that Israel is vowing to expand its response. Tell us a bit more about that, and has there been a response from Hamas?

ESTRIN: Israel hasn't really specified what it's going to do. And an army spokesman told us that if violence continues on the border that it might hit at militant targets in Gaza that could be air strikes, possibly. Hamas, for its part, has said that it's praising the demonstrations that took place on Friday and showed that Palestinians are standing up for the cause.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.