Gaza's Health Ministry said two 17-year-old Palestinian men was killed and 64 others had been wounded by Israeli fire on Saturday as some 40,000 demonstrators massed at several rallying points near Israeli border to mark one year of weekly March of Return protests in the Strip.
Israeli military said the protesters hurled stones and explosive devices at the fence and set tires ablaze. The military added that they use crowd dispersal measures, including live fire and tear gas, to keep the rioters away from the border fence.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the day had "lots of rioters but significantly less violence", adding that it showed Hamas was able to stop violence when it wanted to.
Hamas' leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, personally attended one of the rallies in southern Gaza, where he said the weekly event will continue into a second year. "Israel is facing a new test because the campaign against the occupation, in the form of marches, will not be the same as last year," said Sinwar.
"We are monitoring every crime Netanyahu commits and we will make every effort to defend our people." Sinwar added. "Our nation proves that it adheres to its principles and to the right of return no matter what."
In addition, Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh arrived earlier to the main demonstration, east of Gaza City. Haniyeh was accompanied by members of the Egyptian delegation, who are mediating indirect ceasefire arrangement talks between Israel and Hamas. The delegation is apparently in the Strip in order to monitor the border protests and avoid another flare-up between the two sides.
Dozens of volunteers in fluorescent vests prepared to restrain demonstrators from getting too close to the border fence. Ambulances lined up in front of clinics and police supervised encampments erected far from the fence.
Fouad Aishan, 40, came with his five children to the frontier. He said he plans to show his children the Israeli soldiers and return to safety before the march started.
“I come here driven by personal national motivation,” he said. “It has nothing to do with what the politicians do.”
Earlier on Saturday, Gaza health officials said Israeli troops shot and killed another Palestinian man near the perimeter fence with Israel, hours before the planned mass rally.
A Gaza hospital worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said Saad was a member of the so-called “night disturbance unit.” Such groups routinely burn tires, flash laser lights and detonate explosives near the fence at night to distract soldiers and disturb residents of nearby Israeli communities.
Such a protest took place in the night from Friday to Saturday, and the sound of explosions was heard in nearby Gaza City.
An Israeli army spokesman said about 200 Palestinians “rioted during the night along the fence” and that the army used riot dispersal means against them. He did not elaborate and had no comment about Saad’s case.
The marches near the fence began a year ago, initially organized by grassroots activists, but was quickly sabotaged by Hamas.
Reuters contributed to this report