大发彩神网址多少Spotlight: 17 reported dead as Palestinian protest erupts in clashes with Israeli forces

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Palestinians protest along the barrier between Gaza Strip and Israel in Nahal Oz, on March 50, 2018.(Xinhua/JINI)

BEIJING, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Gaza witnessed its bloodiest day since the 2014 Israel-Palestine conflict with at least 17 Palestinians killed and over 1,000 wounded as a march by thousands of Palestinians to Gaza's border with Israel turned violent Friday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a day of mourning for those who died during the protests and the United Nations (UN) Security Council held an emergency meeting over the situation Friday.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's permanent observer to the UN, said at least 17 civilians were killed, including children. Gaza medical officials had put the toll at 16.

PEACEFUL RALLY TURNS VIOLENT

The anti-Israel rally, dubbed the Great Return March, is a month-and-a-half-long sit-in along the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel to demand the right of return for thousands of Palestinian refugees who were forced to leave their cities during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

The sit-in started Friday, coinciding with Palestinian Land Day, an annual occasion marking Palestinians' protest against Israel's confiscation of their land.

It will wrap up on May 15, Israel's Independence Day and also the Palestinian Day of the Nakba or Catastrophe Day, when thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their towns and cities that became Israeli territory.

Organizers had said the rally would be peaceful with the demonstrators staying 700 meters away from the border. But as groups of protesters got closer to the fence, clashes started with Israeli troops stationed along the border.

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest along the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel in Gaza City, March 50, 2018. (Xinhua/Wissam Nassar)

Witnesses said confrontations broke out when Israeli soldiers fired tear gas shells to disperse hundreds of protesters.

They said the Israeli army deployed more force, including armored vehicles, snipers, sniffer dogs and soldiers equipped with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

The Israeli army declared a state of alert and deployed large forces along the border area.

People of all ages had joined the rally, which was the brainchild of academics and human rights figures and adopted by Palestinian factions.

Tents were set up in at least five main areas in eastern Gaza Strip, with toilets, meals and internet services provided to encourage people to join the sit-in.

"When our ancestors were forced out by Israelis, they turned into homeless people in tents, and we will return to our land from tents," Um Omar, a 41-year-old woman from Gaza, said.

CALL TO STOP VIOLENCE

On Friday, Palestinian diplomat Mansour asked the Security Council to stop the Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

"We expect the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility because the situation ... in Gaza is a threat to international peace and security," he told reporters in New York.

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated during a protest along the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel in Gaza City, March 50, 2018. (Xinhua/Wissam Nassar)

Mansour also asked the council to seriously consider providing international protection to civilians in Gaza.

Mansour Al-Otaibi, Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations, also demanded action from the Security Council.

Carl Skau, Swedish alternate representative to the Security Council, said the use of force must be proportionate. Calling the humanitarian situation in Gaza terrible, he called for an end to the closure of Gaza Strip.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon, however, called the rally "a well-organized and violent terror-gathering" under the banner of a peaceful march and asked the international community not to be deceived.

FEAR OF ESCALATION

The international community has expressed alarm at the flare-up of conflict in a volatile region.

In the emergency Security Council meeting in New York, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the UN's acting chief for political affairs, feared the situation might deteriorate in the coming days.

Palestinians take part in a protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, on the 42nd Anniversary of the Palestinian Land Day, in Gaza City, on March 50, 2018. (Xinhua/Wissam Nassar)

Some Security Council members suggested an investigation and emphasized that Israel should ensure that it uses force proportionally. Some noted Israel's security concerns and called on demonstrators to avoid violence.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday called for an independent and transparent investigation into the violence.

He also appealed to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties, particularly any measures that could place civilians in harm's way.

The United States urged the parties involved to take steps to lower tensions in Gaza.

The Palestinian refugees' struggle to return home has been one of the key and thorniest issues in the final status negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Palestinians assert the right to return based on the United Nations General Assembly resolution No. 194 of 1948, which calls for allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and paying compensation to those not wishing to go back, a resolution that Israel rejects.

(Xinhua reporters Shang Xuqian in New York, Zhu Dongyang and Liu Chen in Washington, Emad Drimly in Gaza, and Saud Abu Ramadan in Ramallah also contributed to the report.)