GAZA: At least 43 Palestinians were killed on Monday in Gaza and more than 1,900 others wounded as the Israeli army fired live ammunition, tear gas and firebombs at protesters assembled along several points near the fence with Israel.
The demonstrations, which coincided with protests against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, are part of a weeks-long protest calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the areas they were forcibly expelled from in 1948.
Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 90 Palestinians in the coastal enclave and wounded close to 10,500 people.
The protest comes ahead of the annual commemorations of the Nakba, or “catastrophe“, when the state of Israel was established on May 15, 1948, in a violent campaign that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their villages.
Palestinian health officials say 43 people have been killed and 1,960 others have been wounded so far.
Of those killed, the ministry of health says at least six are below 18, including one female. Of those wounded, at least 200 are below the age of 18; seventy-eight are women and 11 are journalists.
According to the ministry, some 918 people were shot at with live ammunition.
At least 39 are in critical condition, and there are fears that the death toll could rise.
“The hospital smells like blood, there is blood everywhere,” local journalist Maram Humaid told Al Jazeera from the Indonesia Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.
“Those wounded are lying on the floor – there are no more beds to accomodate them. The hospitals are overflowing,” Humaid added.
“There is a state of anxiety in the hospitals. Ambulances have not stopped arriving. The refrigerators are filling up with bodies and hundreds of people are crowded near them, distressed by the news of the killing of their loved ones.”
Egypt and Jordan condemn Israeli action
Egypt and Jordan have condemned Israeli action in the Gaza Strip, where dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire at the border.
Jordan’s government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani, condemned Israel’s use of “excessive force against the defenceless Palestinian people” and described the violence as a “crime”.
Egypt meanwhile “expressed its strong condemnation for the targeting of unarmed Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupation forces”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states with formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and Jordan followed in 1994.
Palestinians in Gaza prepare to cross fence with Israel
Organisers of the Great March of Return say they are expecting as many as one million people to join the demonstration and attempt to cross the fence with Israel from various points across the border.
A leaflet circulated by the organisers reads: “The national committee for the Great March of Return invites you to participate in the peaceful popular protest, One Million of Return and Breaking the Siege”.
A spokesperson for the Great March of Return, Ahmad Abu Artema, told Al Jazeera that the goal of trying to cross the fence is to “send a message the Palestinian people have not and will not adapt to 70 years of being refugees, estrangement and difficult conditions.”
“We are adamant to return, no matter what happens. This is what the people of Gaza want – it’s about popular will. And this is their right.”
The Right of Return is enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.
Israeli officials have accused Hamas of being behind the protests, saying the movement exploits Palestinians and deliberately exposes them to danger near the border fence.
The organisers behind the Great March of Return have rejected these claims.
Early on Monday, the Israeli military, which has imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, dropped leaflets warning Palestinians to stay away from the border.