Palestinians mark the Land's Day with more border protests

Tens of thousands of Palestinians on Saturday gathered at rallying points near the Israeli border to mark the first anniversary of weekly protests in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli troops fired tear gas and opened fire at small crowds of activists who approached the border fence. United Nations investigators last week said that Israeli forces may be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.

Israel reopened its crossings with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Sunday after having kept them closed for almost a week following a rare long-distance rocket strike from the Palestinian enclave, an official said.

At least two Palestinians were killed and 13 protesters were wounded by live fire, according to Palestinian medical officials.

Egypt has been trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

But Palestinian sources say Egyptian mediators have made some progress in reaching a new ceasefire agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.

The Israeli army said that a projectile launched from the Gaza Strip did not cross into Israeli territory, but did set off air-raid sirens in the country's south.

The week before the anniversary saw a flare-up of cross-border violence after a rocket fired from Gaza wounded seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv on Monday. One Israeli soldier was killed on a protest day but outside the protest sites, the commission said.

Israel said some protestors had begun throwing rocks and explosives towards soldiers positioned nearby. He had been looking for work and food for his family when he became one of dozens of children killed by the Israeli army during the Great March of Return protests.

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.

"We are following with concern the successive and serious developments in the Palestinian cause as a result of Israel's continued settlement construction on the occupied land of Palestine, the existing expansion, demolition of houses, confiscation of lands, and Judaization of the occupied city of Jerusalem, in addition to the persistence of serious violations of global law and disregard of the resolutions of worldwide legitimacy", he said.

The timing is especially sensitive for Israel, which holds a keenly contested general election on April 9 in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a stiff challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.

Israel says any such mass return would spell the end of a Jewish state and that its actions have been necessary to defend the border.

Unless undertaken lawfully in self-defence, intentionally shooting a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.

Under the Egyptian plan, Israel is to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm.

Analysts highlight desperate living conditions and lack of freedom of movement as driving forces behind the protests. The children reported that they had arrived with a knife in order to infiltrate Israeli territory, with the objective of being arrested.

The victims were Tamer Hashim Abu al-Khair, 17, who was killed by Israeli bullets in the chest east of Khan Yunis, and Adham Nidal Amara, 17, was also killed Saturday morning before the start of the demonstrations.

  • Jon Douglas