No fewer than 12 Palestinians were killed and several hundreds wounded by Israeli forces during protests in Gaza.
It was one of the worst days of violence in recent years.
Late in the day, Israel’s military targeted three Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip with tank fire and an air strike after what it said was an attempted shooting attack against soldiers along the border that caused no injuries.
Protesters, including women and children, had earlier gathered at multiple sites throughout the blockaded territory, which is flanked by Israel along its eastern and northern borders.
Smaller numbers approached within a few hundred metres (yards) of the heavily fortified border fence, with Israeli troops using tear gas and live fire to force them back.
Israeli security forces also used a drone to fire tear gas toward those along the border from overhead in one of the first uses of the device, a police spokesman said.
The health ministry in Gaza reported 12 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces throughout the day. More than 1,200 were wounded by various means including tear gas, it said.
Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, as did Turkey.
Israel’s military alleged that the main protests were being used as cover by militants to either break through the border or carry out attacks.
“It is not a peaceful demonstration,” an Israeli military official told journalists.
“There was no small number of attempts to damage the fence and cross” the border, she added.
The army said it estimated some 30,000 demonstrators were taking part in the protests.
It said that “rioters are rolling burning tyres and hurling firebombs and rocks at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”
– ‘Playing with your life’ –
Protesters were demanding hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 be allowed to return.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya attended the protest, believed to be the first time he had gone so close to the border in years.