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Palestinians mourn dead after Gaza-Israel border clash

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GAZA CITY — Dozens of Palestinian youths gathered by the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday, though the area remained mostly quiet, a day after deadly violence broke out in one of the biggest Palestinian demonstrations there in years.

At least 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces confronting protesters on Friday, some of whom the military said had opened fire, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs toward troops across the border.

Thousands in Gaza marched through the streets at funerals for those killed.

In the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, residents said Israeli troops fired warning shots towards a crowd of youths, some of whom burnt tyres.

Health officials said two people were wounded and an Israeli military spokesman said he was checking the details.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Saturday a national day of mourning and a general strike was called across the occupied West Bank.

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered on Friday along the fenced 65 kilometre frontier, where tents were erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendents to what is now Israel.

The Israeli military estimated there were 30,000 people.

Families brought their children to the encampments just a few hundred metres from the Israeli security barrier with the Islamist Hamas-run enclave.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Israel’s security forces after the killings of 17 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, just as condemnation over the Israeli army’s use of live ammunition against protesters grows.

In a statement on Saturday, Netanyahu thanked his troops for ‘guarding the country’s borders’ and allowing ‘Israeli citizens to celebrate the [Passover] holiday peacefully’.

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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