GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories — Five Palestinians were killed Friday as fresh clashes broke out with Israeli troops on Gaza’s border with the Jewish state, despite Egyptian-brokered truce efforts, the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said.
The five men, aged between 22 and 27, died in separate incidents along the border fence, the ministry said.
The violence came despite talk of progress towards an Egyptian-brokered deal to end the months of often violent protests along the border.
Israeli helicopters and planes later struck three bases of Hamas in northern Gaza without causing injuries, the army said and witnesses said.
The army did not comment on the deaths but said around 16,000 “rioters and demonstrators” had gathered along the border, with some setting tires alight and hurling rocks, firebombs and grenades towards soldiers. Troops responded with “riot dispersal means”, a spokesman added.
Three of the men were shot dead east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, while one was killed east of Jabalia in the north of the coastal territory, the Health Ministry said. A fifth man died east of Bureij in central Gaza when a hand grenade he was holding exploded accidentally, witnesses said.
Palestinians have gathered for protests along the Gaza Strip’s border at least weekly since March 30. At least 212 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began, according to figures collated by AFP.
The majority have died during protests, while smaller numbers have been killed by airstrikes and tank fire. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the border in the same period.
The protesters are calling to be allowed to return to lands their families fled or were expelled from in a 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel and which are now inside the Jewish state. They are also protesting over Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza.
Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the often violent demonstrations. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.
The fresh violence could also scupper hopes of a deal to end the months of protests. Egypt and the United Nations have been brokering indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel with the aim of calming the situation amid fears of another war.
Last week, a rocket fired from Gaza hit an Israeli home, narrowly avoiding killing a family. In response the Israeli army carried out air strikes on around 20 Hamas targets in Gaza.
The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported Friday that a deal had been reached that would see the protests end in exchange for an easing of Israel’s blockade.
Hamas officials denied a deal had been struck but confirmed to AFP that progress was being made. “We expect to reach an agreement very soon,” a senior Hamas official said earlier Friday on condition of anonymity.
Israel also fully reopened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip this week following a week of relative calm. It allowed dozens of trucks of fuel paid for by Qatar into the strip, having previously banned their entry in response to the border violence.
Israel says the decade-long blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas, while critics say it amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s two million residents. — AFP