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Unrest Continues Between Palestinians And Israeli Soldiers In Gaza

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to the Gaza Strip and more violence along its border with Israel. Palestinians say Israeli soldiers killed at least seven people during protests there today. It caps a week of border protests and clashes in which more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed and many more injured, according to Gaza officials. Israel says it's trying to protect its troops and stop Palestinians from crossing the fence. Palestinians and rights groups accuse the troops of using excessive force and firing even when there's no immediate threat.

NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Gaza City. And, Daniel, I understand you were actually at the protest area earlier today. Tell us what's going on.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, today Palestinian protesters burned tires on the border. There is this very thick, black smoke screen. The idea was to make it hard for soldiers to see. Now, it was not safe to be right at the border fence, so I did not get a close look at what was happening right there. I stayed farther back, and many Palestinians did so too. They staged a kind of sit-in. Now, from where I was, I saw tear-gas fire just a few times. And one time while I was there, there was gunfire, which was loud enough that we and tons of people ran, even though we were hundreds of yards away from the border.

CORNISH: So far, what have you heard from Israelis? What are they saying about their response?

ESTRIN: Israel says that the Hamas militant group is turning the border area into a conflict zone under the guise of a civil protest. It's saying that some Palestinians today tried to cross the border fence. It says some firebombs were thrown toward soldiers. The army's not yet commenting on today's deaths. But earlier today, the army defended its rules of engagement. An army spokesman told me that soldiers use lethal force against those who approach the border fence, those who are seen trying to harm the fence or attack soldiers.

But Palestinians say that many of the people protesting were unarmed. And Palestinian officials say that more than 500 people were hospitalized today. Palestinians and rights groups say that Israel has used disproportionate force. They say, you know, these are unarmed protesters. Today I saw Palestinians stockpiling rocks, for instance, rocks to throw. But Palestinians told me, you know, soldiers are so far away that when they throw these rocks, they don't reach the soldiers.

CORNISH: Now, do you have any sense, any indication of how long this could continue?

ESTRIN: Well, there were fewer protesters today compared to last Friday. And Israel's arguing that its response has deterred Hamas and has deterred these protests. But I spoke to a Hamas official at the border, and he said protests would continue.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Gaza City. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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