Four Killed in Gaza, as Weekly Protests Shrink

A Palestinian protester during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border east of Gaza City on Friday.

JERUSALEM — They came in smaller numbers. But the outcome was still deadly, and the victims this time included a 15-year-old boy.

Palestinians protested for a fourth Friday along the security fence dividing Gaza from Israel, some of them burning tires, hurling rocks or flying kites with flaming tails in the hope of setting ablaze the fields of Israeli rural communities on the other side. The Israeli military distributed a photograph of one kite with a scrawled swastika.

The military estimated the number of participants at about 3,000 in five locations along the Gaza border, down from at least 30,000 on March 30, when the protest campaign started.

But by evening the Gaza Health Ministry reported four killed by Israeli sniper fire. One was identified as Muhammad Ayoub, 15. Amateur video taken on the Gaza side of the fence purported to show him shot while running with other youths, apparently empty-handed. Graphic photographs showed the teenager lying on the rocky ground, bleeding from the head, and later on a hospital gurney.

His father, Ibrahim Ayoub, told a local Gaza-based news site: “I thank Allah for taking him as a martyr. This is better than the humiliating life and tragedy we live.”

The Friday toll brought the total number of fatalities from the start of the campaign to at least 37. Hundreds more protesters have been wounded by Israeli fire.

Israel has drawn international censure for using live fire against the mostly unarmed protesters who did not appear to present any immediately life-threatening danger to the soldiers.

On Friday, Nickolay E. Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, denounced the shooting of the 15-year-old as “outrageous,” writing on Twitter: “How does the killing of a child in #Gaza today help #peace? It doesn’t! It fuels anger and breeds more killing.” He called for an investigation into the killing.

Even as the numbers of protesters waned, the international campaign supporting the Palestinians received a boost this week when Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress, backed out of a major award ceremony meant to honor her in Jerusalem. Representatives initially cited her distress over “recent events” in Israel. On Friday, Ms. Portman issued a statement explaining her absence, saying, “I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Israel’s military says it is acting to prevent any mass crossing of the fence and to prevent attacks against Israeli soldiers and nearby communities. The military said it was looking into the reports of the fatalities.

On Friday, the Israeli military said in a statement that people participating in what it described as riots were “attempting to approach the security infrastructures,” burning tires and trying to fly kites over the border with burning items attached to them. Several crossed into Israel, the statement said, and “were extinguished when required.”

The military added that it would “not allow any harm to security infrastructure that protects Israeli civilians, and will act against the violent rioters and terrorists who threaten either.” The troops responded with tear gas and live fire.

As in previous weeks, no injuries were reported on the Israeli side.

The protests began as a grass-roots campaign but were quickly adopted by Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza. They are meant to draw international attention to the 11-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the isolated, impoverished coastal territory. The protests also are meant to punctuate Palestinian demands for the return to lands in what is now Israel.

The organizers of the protests, named the Great Return March, originally said the idea had been for a peaceful, family-style six-week sit-in at tent encampments erected about 700 yards from the fence, with weekly marches building up to a peak on May 15. That is when Palestinians mark the Nakba, or the catastrophe, of the foundation of Israel and the war surrounding its creation in 1948, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel. Many of the refugees ended up in Gaza.

Israel says the campaign has been taken over by Hamas, which Israel, like much of the Western world, classifies as a terrorist organization.

In leaflets dropped from the air on Friday the military warned protesters, in Arabic, to stay away from the fence, and told them to ignore instructions from Hamas, which Israel says is exploiting the protesters for its own political interests. While a few confronted the troops, most of the protesters stood by, watching.

One protester, Abdallah Daoud, 16, explained why he was participating. With his face black with soot from the burning tires and slingshot in hand, he said: “There is no money, there is nothing. I want to be a martyr because of the siege,” a reference to the blockade. “I cannot get out of Gaza. There is no income.”

In a new tactic, protesters including whole families in the Shejaiya area of eastern Gaza moved tents forward to about 300 yards from the fence, considered the edge of the danger zone.

Some Shejaiya protesters built a cage, like a mock prison cell, containing effigies of two Israeli soldiers whose bodies are being held by Hamas in Gaza, and two Israeli citizens also believed held by Hamas there. The entrance to the Shejaiya protest site included a large poster with pictures and names of those killed during the first three Fridays.

During a visit to the protest area, Ismail Haniya, the political leader of the Hamas organization, said: “Be ready and prepared for the human flood on all the borders of Palestine inside and outside the occupied lands on the anniversary of the Nakba.”

Islamic Jihad, an extremist group that often rivals Hamas in Gaza, went further, releasing a video on Thursday showing Israeli officers, including a senior general, in its sights as they toured the Israeli side of the fence.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hard-line defense minister, visited the Gaza border area on Friday. “What we have seen in these four weeks is that every week there are less and less people on the one hand,” he said, “and on the other hand, there is much more terror activity.”

He warned, “Whoever makes threats will lose in the end.”

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