Gaza City: A 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces today, the health ministry in the Gaza Strip said, as bloody clashes on the border with Israel escalated.

Ahmed Ouda was shot in a clash north of Gaza City, the ministry said, as thousands of people took part in major protests all along the border. Three other protesters were shot dead, while a farmer died when he was hit by a tank shell, Palestinian officials said.

At least 10,000 Gazans gathered in different spots along the border, AFP journalists said, with smaller numbers entering within a few hundreds of metres of the heavily fortified fence.

Israeli tanks and snipers were positioned on the other side of the border, using tear gas and live fire to force back the protesters. More than 50 people were wounded by live fire, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Israel’s military said in a statement that “thousands of Palestinians are rioting in six locations throughout the Gaza Strip, rolling burning tyres and hurling stones at the security fence and at (Israeli) troops, who are responding with riot dispersal means and firing towards main instigators.”

Earlier today, before the main protests began, a Palestinian farmer was killed by Israeli tank fire near the border. The Israeli military said the tank fire came after “two suspects approached the security fence … and began operating suspiciously.”

The march kicks off up to six weeks of protests dubbed “The Great March of Return,” in the runup to the inauguration of the new US embassy in Jerusalem around May 14. Among those taking part today was Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Islamist movement Hamas that controls Gaza.

“There is no alternative to Palestine and no solution except to return,” he said in a statement, referring to Palestinian refugees seeking to go back to land they fled or were expelled from in 1948 that is now inside Israel.

Israel has accused Hamas of seeking to stir up protests to encourage violence.

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