Israeli fire in Gaza border protest kills 4 Palestinians

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli soldiers firing Friday from across a border fence killed four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old boy, and wounded more than 150 others, health officials said, as several thousand people in blockaded Gaza staged a fourth round of weekly protests on the border with Israel.

Huge black plumes of smoke from burning tires engulfed the border area. Some of the activists threw stones toward the fence or flew kites with flaming rags dangling from their tails.

The latest deaths brought to 32 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in protests since late March. More than 1,600 have been wounded by live rounds in the past three weeks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The rising Palestinian casualty toll signaled that Israel’s military is sticking to its open-fire rules despite international criticism of the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters. Israel says it’s defending its border, and alleges Gaza’s ruling Hamas uses protests as cover for attacks.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council late Friday that Israeli forces continue demonstrating the “cruelty of their occupation machine, responding to the calls of unarmed civilians for freedom and justice with brutal and lethal force.” He said one of the latest victims was a disabled man.

Israeli soldiers are positioned on the other side of the border fence, including snipers taking cover behind earthen berms, and none have been hurt.

Turnout for the marches has fluctuated, with the biggest showing March 30, but Friday’s crowd appeared to have been larger than the one the previous week.

The marches are part of what organizers, led by Hamas, have billed as an escalating showdown with Israel, to culminate in a mass march May 15.

The top Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Friday that people should get ready for large crowds spilling across the border that day.