KHUZAA, Gaza Strip (AP) - Thousands of Palestinians protested along Gazaâ€™s sealed border with Israel on Friday, engulfing the volatile area in black smoke from burning tires to try to block the view of Israeli snipers and cheering a Hamas strongman who pledged that the border fence will eventually fall.
Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 293 others - 25 of them seriously - in the second mass border protest in a week, Gaza health officials said. Hundreds more suffered other injuries, including tear gas inhalation, the officials said.
The deaths brought to 29 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week.
The latest casualties were bound to draw new criticism from rights groups that have branded Israelâ€™s open-fire orders on the border as unlawful, after Israelâ€™s defense minister warned that those approaching the fence were risking their lives.
The U.N. human rights office said Friday that it has indications that Israeli forces used â€śexcessive forceâ€ť against protesters last week, when 15 Palestinians were killed or later died of wounds sustained near the border.
An Israeli military spokesman defended the rules of engagement.
â€śIf they are actively attacking the fence, if they are throwing a molotov cocktail that is within striking distance of Israeli troops or similar activities, then those persons, those rioters, become, may become, a target,â€ť said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
Fridayâ€™s large crowds suggested that Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since a 2007 takeover, might be able to keep the momentum going in the next few weeks. Hamas has called for a series of protests until May 15, the anniversary of Israelâ€™s founding when Palestinians commemorate their mass uprooting during the 1948 war over Israelâ€™s creation.