GAZA (AFP, REUTERS) - Three Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in clashes on the Gaza border on Friday (April 27), the Health Ministry in the enclave said, in the latest day of demonstrations dubbed the Great March of Return.
The ministry said two of the men, who it did not identify, were killed by Israeli fire east of Gaza City.
An AFP correspondent saw both bodies at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
A third man, identified by the ministry as 29-year-old Abdul Salam al-Bakr, was killed east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
The deaths brought the number of Palestinians killed since protests began on March 30 to 44.
154 other people were hospitalised for gunshot wounds and tear gas inhalation, Gaza's Health Ministry said.
As on previous Fridays, protesters gathered at five sites near the border fence, though numbers were down on earlier weeks.
Earlier in the day, Israeli soldiers fired tear-gas at the Palestinians, hours after the United Nations human rights chief criticised Israel for using "excessive force" against demonstrators there in recent weeks.
The number of protesters usually swells to several thousands after Friday prayers.
Palestinian medical officials said at least three youths were wounded by Israeli fire near tent camps along the Gaza-Israel border, as some demonstrators hurled stones and rolled burning tyres toward the fence.
In a statement released earlier on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called the loss of life "deplorable" and said that a "staggering number of injuries" had been caused by live ammunition.
Israel's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment, but the government has consistently said that it is protecting its borders and that its troops are following rules of engagement.
Named the 'Great March of Return', the protest action revives a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
It has seen tent encampments spring up at several locations near the Israeli-imposed restricted zone along the 40km border fence and is scheduled to culminate on May 15, when Palestinians mark Nakba Day, or the Day of Catastrophe, commemorating their displacement 70 years ago.
Israel says that allowing the refugees in would mean the end of the Jewish state, and accuses Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas of using the protests as a pretext for violence.
More than two million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.
Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.