GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men on Friday and wounded 55 others taking part in weekly protests along the fortified Israel-Gaza border, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Medical officials said two men aged 29 and 24 were killed by Israeli fire at two sites in central Gaza. Earlier health officials gave the age of one of the dead as 18.
The Israeli military said its forces faced around 9,500 demonstrators, some hurling rocks and rolling burning tires. A military spokeswoman said troops had responded with “riot dispersal means” and fired according to standard operating procedures.
The Islamic Jihad militant group said in a statement one of the two dead men was a member of its armed wing.
He was taking part as a civilian and not as a combatant, an Islamic Jihad official told Reuters.
Gaza medical officials say around 200 people have been killed since Palestinians launched the weekly border protests on March 30 last year, demanding the right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
About 60 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in other incidents over the same period, including exchanges of fire across the border. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier and another was killed during a botched undercover raid into Gaza.
In Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, chief of the Islamist group Hamas which runs the enclave, urged Palestinians to attend mass rallies on Saturday to mark one year since protests began.
“We will not retreat and whoever thinks that we may retreat a single step backward before achieving our goals is wrong,” said Haniyeh as he arrived at a site of the protests near the border with Israel.
Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Frances Kerry