A Palestinian journalist was among nine people killed as confrontations Friday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces along the Israel-Gaza border turned violent, Palestinian health officials in Gaza said Saturday.
Israeli troops fired live rounds Friday against Palestinians attempting to break through the border fence, the Israeli military said, a week after violence led to the bloodiest day in Gaza since 2014.
In response to a query regarding the journalist’s death, the Israel Defense Forces told CNN: “The IDF does not intentionally target journalists. The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF, and are being looked into.”
In photos apparently showing the journalist at the time he was injured, he was wearing a vest that said “PRESS.”
In all, 31 people have been killed in violence in Gaza since an initial protest was held at the border fence on March 30, according to a CNN count based on the Palestinian Health Ministry figures.
Another 1,356 were injured in Friday’s violence, the ministry said, 35 of them seriously. Of those, 399 were hurt by live fire rounds and 16 by rubber bullets.
The injured included 24 women and 81 children, according to the ministry, as well as another journalist, who was moderately wounded east of Rafah in southern Gaza.
The Israeli military said it had thwarted numerous “terror attack” attempts and efforts by Palestinians to breach the border fence under the cover of smoke into Israel from Gaza on Friday. The military said Palestinians had thrown explosive devices and firebombs towards Israeli troops.
The Israeli military and officials have repeatedly said they will not allow any breach of the fence, and that those who do not abide by the rules of engagement will be shot.
Israeli troops responded Friday with “riot dispersal means” as well as live fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the IDF said. There have been no reports of Israeli military casualties.
Tensions had been building on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border ahead of what some Palestinians alternately dubbed “Friday of Fire” or “Friday of Tires” – a reference to the tires set alight in an attempt to obscure the sights of Israeli snipers. It was the second in a sequence of “March of Return” actions planned through mid-May.
The goal of the “March of Return” protests, Palestinians say, is to cross the border fence and return to their lands, which became part of Israel seven decades ago.
Israel blames Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the violence, and has warned it will strike deep inside Gaza if provoked.
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar threatened Israel on Friday, saying Hamas would hit Israel if Israel strikes inside Gaza.
A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, said the Commissioner’s office was “gravely concerned” that more violence could occur in the coming days, and urged Israel to respect protesters’ rights under international law.
“Given the large number of injuries and deaths, the ominous statements made by Israeli authorities in the days leading up to the protest, as well as indications that the individuals killed or wounded were unarmed or did not pose a serious threat to well-protected security forces – and in some cases were actually running away from the fence – there are strong indications that security forces used excessive force,” Throssell said.
“We echo the call by the UN Secretary-General for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents, with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We also call on leaders on both sides to do all in their power to prevent further injuries and loss of life.”
IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus denied Israel was using excessive force against protesters in Gaza.
“We are using water, tear gas, and other means to try to create a distance between rioters and our security fence. We use lethal means very sparingly and only against specific people who pose a real threat toward our security infrastructure,” he told CNN.
“It’s up to Hamas and it’s their responsibility. The fact that they are pushing these rioters toward the fence and to breach it means that they are responsible for the civilians in Gaza.”
The United Nations Security Council on Friday failed for the second time to agree on the release of a press statement addressing the violence in Gaza.
According to two UN diplomats, the United States did not approve the draft statement, preventing it from being released. UN rules stipulate that if any permanent member of the UNSC does not approve the release of the draft press statement, then it is blocked from being issued.
CNN received a copy of the draft statement.
“The members of the Security Council expressed their grave concern at the situation at the border of Gaza for the second week in a row. The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the right to peaceful protest and expressed their sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives,” the draft press statement reads in part. The draft also calls for an “independent and transparent investigation” into the violence in Gaza.
The United States blocked a similar statement on March 31.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Ian Lee, Daniel Nikbakht and Richard Roth contributed to this report.