Wounded Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, 31, is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday. He subsequently died of his injuries. Picture: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA
Wounded Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, 31, is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday. He subsequently died of his injuries. Picture: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA

Gaza City, Palestinian Territories — Two Palestinians, including a journalist, have died after being shot by Israeli troops during border clashes, the health ministry in Gaza said Saturday, bringing the total killed in the latest violence to nine. Thousands of protesters approached the border fence around the Gaza Strip for a second Friday in a row, burning tyres and hurling stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and live ammunition.

In addition to the nine dead, at least 491 were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza strip said. Israel estimated the number of protesters at around 20,000, saying they were seeking to breach the border.

Numbers were down from the previous Friday, when tens of thousands approached the border in demonstrations that saw Israeli forces kill 19 Palestinians, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since a 2014 war.

No Israelis were injured on either day and the latest deaths have sparked fresh calls for an investigation. Among those killed at Friday’s protest was Yasser Murtaja, a photographer with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, who died from his wounds after being shot, the local health ministry said Saturday. Murtaja’s company confirmed his death, with witnesses saying he was close to the front of the protests in Southern Gaza when he was hit.

An AFP photograph taken after he was wounded showed Murtaja wearing a press vest as he received treatment.

The Israeli army declined to comment, saying it was reviewing the incident.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said five other journalists were also shot during the protests, insisting they were wearing clothes clearly identifying them as members of the press. In a statement, the syndicate said it held Israel "fully accountable for this crime." The Gaza health ministry also announced Saturday the death of another man, 20-year-old Hamza Abdel Aal, saying he was shot east of Al-Bureij in central Gaza.

The nine men were expected to be buried Saturday.

Weeks of border protests have been called to demand the return of Palestinians to land they were forced from or fled after the founding of Israel 70 years ago. They come with tensions high as the US gears up to shift its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after recognising the disputed city as the capital of the Jewish state.

Protesters on Friday said Gaza’s economic woes were also fuelling frustration. The territory has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade, while Egypt has mostly sealed its borders in recent years as well, leaving the cramped area of two million people largely sealed off.

Ahmad al-Naqaa, 40, said he was bringing his seven children to the protest because "we are living like sardines." "I am ready to die for our land and our dignity," he told AFP. At the United Nations, Kuwait on Friday called on the Security Council to investigate the deaths.

A Kuwaiti text is expected to be vetoed by the United States after a similar draft declaration was blocked last week.

Israel has rebuffed international calls for a probe into last Friday’s killings.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged it to "exercise extreme caution with the use of force" ahead of the latest clashes. The Israeli army said its troops opened fire on Friday "in accordance with the rules of engagement".

The military said "attempts were made to infiltrate into Israel under the cover of a smokescreen" and that firebombs and explosive devices were thrown at the soldiers.

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

It claimed more than half the dead from the previous Friday were members of militant groups, including Hamas’s armed wing.

Hamas claimed only five of the dead, saying they were participating "in popular events side-by-side with their people." Those killed would receive $3,000 to support their families, Hamas announced ahead of Friday’s protests.

Late Friday Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis classified the operation along the border as a success.

"None of our troops were wounded, the fence was not crossed," he said, noting that what happened last week had "deterred Hamas, which prevented the masses from approaching the fence".

But on the other side, Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar also claimed victory and pledged Palestinians would eventually "break the border and return to our land and pray in Jerusalem".

Israel has also banned the entry of tyres into the Gaza Strip, the head of a Palestinian committee for coordinating imports to Gaza said.

The borders were quiet Saturday morning.

AFP

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