In solidarity with Palestinian refugees, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along Gaza’s border with Israel.
As the six-week protests kicked off, Israel forces reportedly fired live ammunition at protestors that killed 16 unarmed Palestinians and injured more than 1,400 others.
According to Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli forces also threw tear gas at protestors in order to push them back from a heavily fortified fence. It further stated a Palestinian farmer and a man were killed by Israeli tank shell hours before the demonstration started.
The protest, entitled "Return March" or "March of Return,” is a peaceful demonstration which includes families of men, women, and children who are planned to live in tent encampments. It began on March 30 and is due to end on May 15.
The start date of the protest commemorates “Land Day” when six Arab citizens of Israel were killed at the hands of Israeli forces in 1976. It was the day when Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians marched in protest after the Israeli government announced expropriation of Arab-owned land for military and settlement purposes.
The main focus of the demonstration is to demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed the right of return to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Organizers of the protest said Palestinians will make sure violence doesn't escalate on their part.
On the other hand, Israel has dismissed the protest as a ploy has also made preparations for the protest, by issuing an order to deploy, near the area of the protest, around 100 snipers — with permission to open fire.
Israeli military’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, told the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Israeli soldiers have been ordered to open fire in case "lives are in jeopardy."
As soon as the news of Israel’s violence made news, condemnations started pouring in from around the world.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that Israel was responsible for the violence and declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent, transparent investigation and appealed "to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and in particular any measures that could place civilians in harm's way," his spokesman said in a statement.
The United States, a close Israel ally, told the council it was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life.
"We urge those involved to take steps to lower tensions and reduce the risk of new clashes. Bad actors who use protests as a cover to incite violence endanger innocent lives," said U.S. a diplomat.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters, Ibraheem Abu Mustafa