People carry the body of a Palestinian who was killed at the Israel-Gaza border, at a hospital in Gaza City on Saturday. Mohammed Salem Reuters
GAZA CITY: A Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire on the Gaza border early on Saturday, the territory's health ministry said, hours ahead of planned mass protests.
The ministry said Mohammed Saad, 20, died after being hit in the head with shrapnel caused by Israeli army fire east of Gaza City.
Protesters at the site said he had been taking part in an overnight rally ahead of the main demonstration scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
They said he was more than 100 metres (yards) from the heavily-fortified border fence when he was hit and had been on crutches due to a previous injury.
An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment.
Thousands are expected to demonstrate on Saturday afternoon at various points along the Gaza-Israel border, one year after the start of regular mass protests demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees to homes now in Israel.
At least 259 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began, the vast majority along the border.
An injured Palestinian being removed to safety in Mughayir, West Bank, on Friday. Agence France-Presse
Despite a decision by Gaza protest organisers not to hold a big demonstration on Friday, some Palestinians turned out, although in smaller numbers than usual.
Humanitarian officials urged restraint for Saturday's anniversary to avoid any further bloodshed.
The Israeli military said its troops faced around 800 demonstrators along the fortified frontier on Friday and that they had used riot dispersal measures to defend the border.
There were also sporadic clashes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinian youths threw petrol bombs in Hebron, and 150 demonstrators hurled stones at Israeli troops, who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
“Hamas is demanding the delivery of aid and goods to the blockaded Gaza Strip, an end to water and electricity shortages…
The Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers have backed an Egyptian proposal to foster calm on the Israel border ahead of major expected protests, two Hamas officials said on Friday.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli side on the potential agreement.
Egypt, the United Nations and others have been trying to mediate an agreement to limit the level of violence.
An Egyptian delegation held talks with Hamas and Hamas-backed attacks in the Israeli-occupied West Bank would also cease, the official said.
In exchange, the official said, “the Egyptians informed us that the (Israelis) promised to ease their measures.”
In particular, the Israelis will not fire on protesters unless they approach the border fence and will also allow nations to increase the amount of aid it funnels into the Gaza Strip.
His remarks were confirmed by a second Hamas official.
Other factions in Gaza held meetings that stretched into the early hours of Friday, the officials said.
A Hamas official who took part in the meetings said they had backed an Egyptian proposal that will see protesters stay several hundred metres from the border.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group is “at a crossroads” in the latest round of talks with Egyptian officials.
Haniyeh said Hamas is demanding the delivery of aid and goods to the blockaded Gaza Strip, an end to water and electricity shortages, and job creation programmes to mitigate the territory’s 50 per cent unemployment rate.
Hamas has been mobilising its resources and urging Palestinians to come out in force to five locations along the Israeli security fence on Saturday.
Protest organisers installed tents near the border equipped with electricity and internet connection for demonstrators.
The main Gaza City hospital has erected a triage tent in anticipation of a massive influx of casualties.
Israel has bolstered its forces around the enclave in advance.
Earlier on Friday, a UN official urged both sides to avoid a violent escalation at the border demonstration.
“People are saying ok we want demonstrations, but we don’t want people to put themselves in situations of violence and find themselves close to the fence.
Jamie McGoldrick, the world body’s humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, in a statement outlined the “staggering” human costs a year of demonstrations has inflicted, especially on Gaza’s children.
He said 195 Palestinians, including some 40 children, have been killed by Israeli forces and nearly 29,000 Palestinians have been wounded, including 7,000 by live fire.
A large number of the casualties have been unarmed Palestinians and medics with clearly marked clothing, which has “raised concerns” about Israel’s alleged use of excessive force.
The UN statement said the protests have deteriorated conditions in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming a health care system already stressed by 11 years of blockade.
McGoldrick spoke of positive signals from all parties and was “quietly hopeful.”
“People are saying ok we want demonstrations, but we don’t want people to put themselves in situations of violence and find themselves close to the fence,” he said.
Hurling pipe bombs and setting off firecrackers, “Night Disturbance Units” have become a new phenomenon on the Gaza-Israel border in the run-up to the first anniversary of deadly border protests.
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