GAZA - hundreds of Palestinian protesters stormed the Gaza security barrier and tried to cross into Israel on Friday.


Israeli troops responded with lethal force, killing at least several people and wounding hundreds, according to Gaza health officials.


The protest was the fifth in a series of weekly demonstrations billed as the Great Return March, meant to highlight the decade-old Israeli blockade of the impoverished coastal enclave as well as to rekindle international sympathy for Palestinian refugees’ claim of a right to return to what is now Israel. At least 40 demonstrators were killed in the first four weekly protests.


As of Friday evening, the Gaza health ministry said three people had been killed, all of them shot in the head. About 350 others had been wounded, 75 of them by live ammunition, the ministry said.


Demonstrators used wire cutters, hooks and winches to try to pull down the barriers that Israeli forces have relied upon to hold back the protesters. The demonstrators have increasingly vowed to rush into Israel and reclaim the lands their forefathers left behind.


A 21-year-old man who gave his name only as Ahmed said he had seen five men shot as they pulled away a barbed-wire barrier which demarcates a buffer zone just inside Gaza territory and amounts to the Israelis’ first line of defense.


But for the first time since these protests began on March 30, witnesses and Israeli officials confirmed, at least some of the Palestinians trying to cross into Israel made it as far as the second barrier about 30 yards away — an electrified, sensor-laden fence that runs along the 1949 armistice line separating Gaza from Israel.