Israel Rejects An Investigation Into Gaza Border Violence
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Israel's defense minister dismissed international demands to investigate violence at the border with Gaza. Israeli troops opened fire with live as well as rubber bullets, killing at least 16 people. Israelis say they responded to violence. So what do Palestinians say? NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Gaza as part of his reporting to reconstruct what happened. Hi there, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Let's recall a little geography. We've got this little strip of land with a lot of Palestinians in it. There's a barrier between it and Israel, which is where the violence took place. What prompted Palestinians to march toward that barrier, that border?
ESTRIN: Well, there were big rallies organized along the border. Palestinians were calling for a return to lands that are today a part of Israel, and the Hamas militant group that rules in Gaza encouraged people to go. A number of people I spoke to said they went with their families to picnic. People played soccer. There were food trucks. But then closer to the border fence, Israel said some Palestinians threw rocks, rolled burning tires. And Israel says its troops shot at those who posed a danger. And those protests are still going on in much smaller numbers. We were at the border yesterday and met an 18-year-old Palestinian, Hamada Zaza (ph). His hand was covered in a bandage from a rubber bullet wound. He said he shot fireworks toward soldiers. And I asked him why he was there.
HAMADA ZAZA: (Foreign language spoken).
ESTRIN: He said, "I want to die." He said there's no work. He is bored. He blames the rulers in Gaza, the Islamist militant group Hamas, for ruining Gaza. For instance, he said he was jailed for six months for getting into a fight and cursing the name of God. He says he sees no point in living, and so he felt he had very little to lose when he went to go protest.
INSKEEP: OK. Wow. So he's actually critical of Hamas, which encouraged him to protest against Israel, but still he went to this protest and says he ended up wounded by rubber bullets. What are the differing views of the Israeli gunfire?
ESTRIN: Well, human rights groups are accusing Israel of excessive use of force. And one of the questions here is, who was injured, how many were injured? Palestinian officials say more than 700 were wounded by live gunfire. Israel says those numbers are much lower. There's also a dispute about the deaths. Israel says at least 10 people who were killed were militants affiliated with Hamas or other groups. But there were others killed, as well. There are some videos that seem to show Palestinians being shot when they were not posing an immediate danger.
INSKEEP: Well, do Palestinians that you talk with acknowledge that some in their number were violent, which is the central Israeli defense?
ESTRIN: Yes. I mean, when I was at the border, I saw someone carrying a slingshot. The man we were speaking to earlier said he had shot fireworks. That's not in dispute. Hamas has claimed five of its militants killed. And today an Islamic Jihad, another group, said one of its fighters died of his wounds, too.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, is more violence on the way?
ESTRIN: Well, Palestinians are vowing to continue protesting at the border for six more weeks. We'll have to see.
INSKEEP: OK. Daniel, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting today from Gaza.
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