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Palestinians protest Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, Palestine: Hundreds of Palestinians protested near the fence erected by Israeli forces in the besieged Gaza Strip against a crippling blockade.

The Israeli military, which had beefed up its forces in advance of the demonstration on Wednesday, said it was using tear gas and live fire to disperse the crowd in southern Gaza. Palestinian medics reported at least nine people were wounded.

The Al Aqsa TV television network, which is run by Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs Gaza, showed crowds of people approaching the fence, then running away when an Israeli military vehicle arrived. Tear gas could be seen floating in the wind.

The military said it was using .22 calibre gunfire, a type of weapon that is meant to be less lethal than more powerful firearms but can be deadly.

Dozens of tear gas canisters have been fired at protesters in the southern city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated on Saturday, resulting in violent confrontations.

More than 40 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire during Saturday’s demonstrations, including a 13-year-old youth who was shot in the head, the health ministry said.

One of the wounded, Osama Dueji, 32, died of a bullet wound on Wednesday.

After the shooting, Israel’s military bombed Hamas weapons sites in the Gaza Strip early on Sunday.

Hamas has organised the protests in an attempt to put pressure on Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained the blockade since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning the Palestinian election.

The blockade has devastated Gaza’s economy and fuelled an unemployment rate hovering around 50%.

Israel has said the blockade, which tightly restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, is intended to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and numerous skirmishes since 2007, most recently an 11-day escalation in violence in May that killed 260 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel.

Hamas has accused Israel of violating the ceasefire that ended the fighting by tightening the blockade.

In particular, it has restricted the entry of materials needed for reconstruction.

Israel has demanded the return of the remains of two soldiers killed in a 2014 war, as well as the return of two Israeli civilians believed to be in Hamas captivity.

Last week, Israel reached an agreement with Qatar to allow the Gulf country to resume aid payments to thousands of impoverished Gaza families.

Under the new system, the payments will be delivered by the United Nations directly to families that have been vetted by Israel.

The payments are expected to begin in the coming weeks, providing some relief in Gaza.

But tensions remain high. In addition to the demonstrations, Hamas has allowed its supporters to launch incendiary balloons across the border, setting off several wildfires in southern Israel. Israel has launched a series of air raids on Hamas targets in Gaza.

Egypt, which serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, has been working to broker a longer-term truce between the bitter enemies.

This week, Egypt closed its border crossing with Gaza, the main exit point for the territory’s people to travel abroad, in a show of frustration with Hamas.