Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

At Least 15 Palestinians Killed By Israeli Troops In Clashes


The U.N. secretary general has called for an independent investigation into the deadly violence on the Gaza border. Palestinian officials say that 16 people were killed during a day of demonstrations and clashes with Israeli soldiers yesterday. Israel has warned it will expand its response if the clashes continue.

The violence comes at a critical time for the crowded Gaza Strip. Nearly 2 million Palestinians live in the thin 25-mile-long territory with borders that are controlled tightly by Israel and Egypt, suffered a series of wars between Israel and Hamas - the militant group that controls Gaza. The U.N. warns that Gaza's on the verge of what they call full collapse. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And before we get into Gaza's ongoing problems, what seems to be the latest?

ESTRIN: Palestinians are holding funerals today for those killed yesterday. There were some reports of very small demonstrations today, a few injuries, but nothing like yesterday - what we saw yesterday. Israel said more than 30,000 Palestinians gathered at the border yesterday - the biggest Palestinian demonstration of this kind in years. Israel said some approached the border throwing rocks and firebombs. Troops on the other side of the border shot back with tear gas and rubber bullets, but also live fire.

Now Palestinian officials say about 750 people were wounded by live fire, and there are several videos on social media circulating today that seem to show Palestinians being shot far from the border without provocation.

The Israeli army is dismissing these videos, is giving a different story. A spokesman of the army said dozens were hit by live fire, not hundreds, saying soldiers shot only at those trying to cut through or damage the border fence. And he said most of those killed were affiliated with militant groups. And indeed, today, Hamas confirmed that five of its militants were killed.

SIMON: Hamas has waged three wars with Israel. The U.S. and European Union designate Hamas as a terror group. Hamas has controlled Gaza for a decade. Its position, though, has changed some lately, hasn't it?

ESTRIN: It has because Hamas is facing a crisis of its own. It's facing a money crunch. It has lost the support of many Arab countries that used to support it with money. It's facing a continued blockade by Israel and Egypt.

Now Hamas agreed, because of all these pressures, to give up the keys to Gaza - give the keys back to the Palestinian Authority - to let the PA, the Palestinian Authority, rule Gaza again. But these reconciliation efforts are failing. The Palestinian Authority wants Hamas to give up its weapons. Hamas refuses to disarm. And Egypt is trying to mediate between the two sides, but there's been no progress.

SIMON: What's life like for people who live in Gaza?

ESTRIN: Well, an average Gazan these days gets only about four hours of electricity a day. There are water issues. What the U.N. says - water gets pumped to homes for only a few hours every couple days - every four or five days. Hospitals are out of essential medicines. Unemployment is very high. This blockade on Gaza continues, and it's very - you know, people don't really see a future for themselves there.

SIMON: And little in the prospect to suggest things will improve.

ESTRIN: Yeah. The White House is making lots of efforts. It's expressed concern about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And, you know, it says, when things are bad in Gaza, that can affect Israel next door. The White House has been trying to promote different projects to - humanitarian projects in Gaza, and it seems that some of these projects are getting a lot of funding from around the world, from international donors.

And, you know, Gaza has always been this kind of place with - people see it as these impossible problems. But now the U.S. is focusing on Gaza and saying, if we can improve the infrastructure there, maybe there will be a better political solution to be had there.

SIMON: NPR's Daniel Estrin thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.