Home News Palestinians Clash With Military on Heels of Israel's 70th Birthday

Palestinians Clash With Military on Heels of Israel's 70th Birthday

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A Palestinian man displays a leaflet that was airdropped by the Israeli army over Gaza calling on residents not to approach the border fence.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Palestinian protesters clashed with the Israeli military at the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel on Friday, calling for the right of refugees to return to what is now Israel a day after Israelis celebrated the 70th birthday of their nation.

Four Palestinians died and nearly 100 were injured from Israeli gunfire by early evening, Palestinian health authorities said. The Israeli army earlier Friday said it was on high alert and warned Palestinians via airdropped leaflets to refrain from violence and avoid approaching the security fence.

Clashes between the army and protesters for the past four consecutive Fridays have now left 37 dead and more than 4,500 injured, including 1,600 with live fire, Palestinian authorities have said. Israel’s military didn’t report any casualties.

Israel’s military has responded to international criticism by saying it must use gunfire to prevent a breach of the border fence by angry protesters. The military added that the number of Palestinians protesting has been falling over the past weeks, with some 3,000 demonstrating Friday, compared with roughly 30,000 three weeks earlier.

Hamas leader

Ismail Haniyeh

said Friday that Palestinians would come out in greater numbers on May 15, when protest organizers plan the biggest march for what Palestinians call “Nakba Day,” or “Day of the Catastrophe,” marking the day after the anniversary of Israel’s founding on May 14, 1948. Israelis on Thursday celebrated 70 years since the country’s establishment, based on the Hebrew calendar, with air shows, parties and ceremonies.

“Our will is stronger than their snipers,” Mr. Haniyeh said at the border protest.

Gazans are calling for the right to return to their ancestors’ villages and towns, a demand Israelis reject because they say it would put the country’s Jewish majority at risk.

Organizers on Thursday moved protest tents closer to the fence and indicated they might seek to breach the barrier next month. Friday’s demonstration honored Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Several Palestinians this week flew kites with oil-drenched, burning rags on their tails in an attempt to set alight Israeli fields on the other side of the fence.

Israel says Gaza ruler Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, is using the demonstrations as a pretext to attack Israeli soldiers.

Though many protesters are nonviolent, videos have showed Palestinians attempting to attack the border fence. The Israeli military has said it defused multiple explosive devices at the barrier in recent weeks.

Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group, on Thursday released a threatening video showing Israelis on the border fence through the lens of a sniper scope. Among those shown was

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai,

the most senior Israeli soldier coordinating civilian matters with the Palestinians.

“You’re killing our people in cold blood and think that you’re protected, but our snipers’ sights are on your top commanders,” the video said.

Israel’s intelligence and transportation minister,

Yisrael Katz,

on Twitter said any attacks on Israeli commanders would lead to targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.

The demonstrations come as the strip’s economy is flatlining. Palestinian Authority President

Mahmoud Abbas,

who governs in the West Bank, has put financial pressure on the strip to encourage Hamas to cede control. International aid for reconstruction after three wars in Gaza also has stalled.

Egypt invited Hamas officials to Cairo this week in a bid to defuse tensions and encourage the group and Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party to reconcile and return governance of the strip to the Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt maintain an effective blockade of the strip to ensure Hamas can’t arm to attack Israelis.

White House special envoy to the Israelis and Palestinians,

Jason Greenblatt,

late Thursday said Palestinians had the right to peacefully protest their dire circumstances.

“Organizers & leaders should focus on that message, not stoke the potential for more violence,” Mr. Greenblatt tweeted.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

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