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Gazans ready for new protests after bloodiest day in years

Issued: 2018-03-31

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinians prepared for further protests near the Gaza border Saturday, a day after a major demonstration led to clashes that saw Israeli forces kill 16 people in the bloodiest day since a 2014 war.

Protesters began returning to a tent city erected near the border with Israel to resume the demonstration planned to last six weeks in the blockaded enclave.

Thousands were attending funerals for those killed, with mourners holding Palestinian flags and some chanting "revenge."

A general strike was being held in both the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

Israel defended its soldiers' actions on Friday, when troops opened fire on Palestinians who strayed from the main tent city protest -- attended by tens of thousands -- and approached the heavily fortified fence cutting off the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military says it opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres at soldiers.

It also said there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was an attempted shooting attack against soldiers along the border that caused no casualties.

But Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, while human rights groups questioned Israel's use of live fire.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an "independent and transparent investigation."

In addition to the 16 killed, more than 1,400 were wounded, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, according to the Gazan health ministry.

No casualties were reported among Israelis.

- World 'must intervene' -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared Saturday a day of national mourning and in a speech said he held Israel fully responsible for the deaths.

"The large number of martyrs and people wounded in peaceful popular demonstrations shows that the international community must intervene to provide protection to our Palestinian people," he said.

An Israeli military spokesman said Friday's events were "not a protest demonstration" but "organised terrorist activity."

He accused Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, of being behind it and threatened wider military action if it continued.

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