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Gaza clashes turn deadly again as Hamas warns of "starving tiger"

Death toll rises in Gaza border protests

GAZA STRIP -- Thousands of Palestinians gathered Friday at Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, near the border fence that separates the Palestinian territory from Israel. CBS News correspondent Holly Williams said their anger and frustration was plain to see.  

For six weeks they've held these demonstrations, charging at the fence that cuts the Palestinians of Gaza off from the outside world because of a more-than-10-year blockade which has exacerbated their poverty.

The Israelis have responded to the protesters hurling rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires with bullets and tear gas. They've killed at least 41 and injured almost 2,000 since the protests began on March 30. 

Gaza Health Ministry said one Palestinian was killed and 49 were wounded by Israeli army fire on Friday. 

Many of the Palestinian protesters are peaceful, and Israel says it only targets protesters who threaten the border.

In a statement on Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said about 5,000 Palestinians were taking part in "riots" along the border. 

"The rioters are violent, burning tires and hurling rocks at the security fence and at IDF soldiers and launching kites with burning items attached to them with the intention of igniting fires in Israeli territory. IDF troops are responding with riot dispersal means and are firing in accordance with the rules of engagement," the Israeli military said, vowing to defend the border "and ensure the security of the citizens of Israel and Israeli sovereignty, as necessary."

The Palestinians want the right to return to land they were forced to leave behind in 1948 when the state of Israeli was formed. There are about 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, and two-thirds of them are refugees or decedents of refugees.

Demonstrator uses a sling to hurl stones at Israeli forces during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip
A demonstrator uses a sling to hurl stones at Israeli forces during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 11, 2018. REUTERS

The protests will culminate next Tuesday, May 15, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Israel -- a day the Palestinians refer to as "an-Nakba," or "the catastrophe."

The Hamas militant group's leader in the Gaza Strip said Thursday that protesters would be unarmed and peaceful next week, but he also compared them to a "starving tiger," and held out the possibility that tens of thousands of people could try to burst through the fence and swarm into Israel.

Deadly protests along Israel-Gaza border

While Yehiyeh Sinwar repeatedly said he hoped to avoid bloodshed, he gave no indication that his group would try to hold back the expected large crowds -- a scenario that could trigger a potentially lethal Israeli response.

In his first meeting with foreign press since taking office last year, Sinwar said residents of blockaded Gaza are so desperate their actions are impossible to predict. He also claimed that Israel's borders are not internationally recognized and do not have to be respected.

Tensions In Gaza Remain High After Continuous Border Clashes With Israel
Men look for items to recycle in trash on May 11, 2018 in Gaza City, Gaza. For the 1.9 million Palestinians living inside the Gaza Strip life has become a daily struggle for food, electricity and money after 10 years of an Israeli blockade on the area. Getty

"What's the problem if hundreds of thousands storm this fence which is not a border of a state? What's the problem with that?" he said.

Israel has said it will defend its border. It accuses Hamas of exploiting civilians and using the chaotic scenes to stage attacks.  

Sinwar said the demonstrations were aimed at breaking the blockade, and also as a protest against Monday's planned move of the U.S. Embassy to contested Jerusalem.