Thousands march on Gaza-Israel border in 5th Friday of protests
GAZA CITY - Thousands of Palestinian protesters returned to points along the Gaza Strip's border with Israel for a fifth consecutive Friday of demonstrations dubbed the Great March of Return.
Demonstrators again gathered at five sites near the border fence, though numbers were down on previous weeks.
Dozens of young men burned tyres and threw stones a few hundreds metres from the border, with Israeli soldiers occasionally firing at them.
Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, the health ministry in the enclave said.
The ministry said two of the men, who it did not identify, were killed by Israeli fire east of Gaza City.
An AFP correspondent saw both bodies at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
A third man, identified by the ministry as 29-year-old Abdul Salam al-Bakr, was killed east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
The deaths brought the number of Palestinians killed since protests began on March 30 to 44.
154 other people were hospitalised for gunshot wounds and tear gas inhalation, Gaza's health ministry said.
A 22-year-old freelance photographer was among those shot, the ministry said.
Marchers are demanding the right to return to their homes seized by Israel in 1948.
Israel says that allowing the refugees in would mean the end of the 'Jewish state', and accuses Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas of using the protests as a pretext for violence.
Demonstrations are expected to spike again in the lead up to May 14, when the United States is expected to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The decision has infuriated Palestinians, who see the annexed eastern half of the holy city as the capital of their future state.
Israel has rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the deaths along Gaza's border, with the army saying its troops only use live ammunition as a last resort.