GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinians, one of them an 11-year-old boy, and wounded at least 248 others taking part on Friday in weekly protests at the fortified Gaza Strip border, Palestinian medical officials said.
The Israeli military said it used force necessary to repel 13,000 Palestinians who massed at several points at the fence.
Some hurled rocks, fire-bombs and grenades at troops under cover of smoke from burning tyres, injuring a soldier, and nine Palestinians briefly crossed into Israel, the military said.
Friday's dead brought to 177 the number of Palestinians killed since the sometimes violent demonstrations were launched on March 30 to press demands against Israel. The 11-year-old, Shadi Abdel-Al, is the youngest fatality from Israeli gunfire.
"He used to go every Friday to the marches like thousands of other people. This Friday was his destiny to die as a martyr," the boy's father, Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Al, told Reuters.
Another Palestinian, 28-year-old Hashem Hassan, said he saw Abdel-Al being shot 70 metres (yards) from the fence: "He threw a few stones, which flew just a few yards. He posed no threat."
Asked about Abdel-Al's death, a military spokeswoman said only that troops had kept to their open-fire regulations.
Since March 30, Gaza has also seen shelling exchanges between the coastal enclave's Islamist Hamas rulers and Israel. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper and Israel has lost tracts of forest and farmland to cross-border incendiary attacks.
Israel's tactics against the protests have drawn international condemnation.
But Washington has backed its ally in accusing Hamas of staging the mass-mobilisation to distract from Gaza's poverty and governance problems and to provide cover for armed Palestinian border incursions. Hamas has denied this.
The Israeli military said that, twice this week, its patrols discovered and dismantled bombs that had been planted for use against them at the fence. Early on Friday, several Palestinians crawled to the fence to throw a pipebomb at troops, who fired back, the military said. There was no word of casualties.
The protesters want rights to lands Palestinians lost during the 1948 war of Israel's foundation, as well as the easing of a crippling blockade that Israel, with the help of neighbouring Egypt, has placed on Gaza to isolate Hamas and deny it weaponry.
U.N. and Egyptian mediators have been trying to reach a deal to calm Gaza, where Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the last decade. The brokering efforts have been complicated by Hamas's feuding with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has restricted funding to Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)