Gaza City – Samir rushes forward and hurls the flaming bottle with all his might at the observation tower and the Israel soldiers inside, his contribution to the “intifada”.
“We either kick out the Jews or we die,” says the 20-year-old Palestinian, one of hundreds protesting violently near the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.
“Anyway, we have nothing to lose. Our life is the blockade, unemployment, destruction. And no one cares about us.”
Gaza, the tiny enclave on the Mediterranean hit by three wars with Israel since 2008, has been drawn into the unrest that erupted recently in annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Nine Gazans were killed by Israeli fire in border clashes over the weekend, and dozens have sought to breech the fence.
In response to two rockets fired from Gaza, Israeli warplanes carried out an air strike Sunday, demolishing a house in northern Gaza and killing a pregnant woman and her two-year-old daughter.
Israel said it was targeting two arms manufacturing facilities belonging to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza.
But some analysts say they believe that Hamas, which does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and opposes the Jewish state’s occupation of Palestinian lands, does not want yet another conflict.
Last year’s 50-day war killed more than 2,200 people and left 100,000 homeless, and reconstruction has been slow.
But Salafist jihadists and other movements are also active in Gaza, and Hamas would likely not remain on the sidelines and watch the situation develop beyond its control.
There are more than enough hopeless young people in Gaza who would be potential volunteers for the cause.
The strip has been under an Israeli blockade for years. Unemployment among its 1.8 million people is around 45 percent, one of the highest rates in the world, and more than half of the population wants to leave.
– ‘We want to fight’ –
Samir walked the five kilometres (three miles) to Tuesday’s protest at the Erez crossing with his friends from his home in Jabaliya. Like many protesters, he wore a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf to cover his face.
They aimed to confront the Israeli soldiers posted behind the long wall separating Gaza from Israel.
“We came to support the young people in the intifada in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” he says. “We want to fight, even with stones and firebombs.”
Atop the tower the youths were targeting, the barrel of a submachine gun can be seen, but no soldiers.
But eventually, the tear gas cannisters fly and gunfire rings out, and some of the youths fall to the ground.
During the clashes, 35 people were wounded by live fire or rubber bullets, or were overcome by tear gas inhalation, Gaza medics said.
The work of ambulance medics has been complicated not only by the gunfire and tear gas, but also by protesting youths blocking roads. Some have gone on foot to retrieve the wounded with stretchers.
Suhail, a 31-year-old teacher, decided to volunteer after seeing the rescuers difficulties on television.
“I thought that I should come with my friend to help transport the wounded,” he says. “I don’t want our young people dying for nothing; they’re there because they’re desperate and only want a better life.”
As for the stone throwers, they seem unconcerned by the danger.
“We know that our stones will not kill any soldier, but I swear to you they tremble before us because we are the generation of freedom,” says one of the protesters, his face hidden.
Not far away, Hamas police hold back, allowing the protest to continue.
“How can we stop young people from shouting their rejection of the occupation?” one asks. AGENCIES
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