GAZA CITY  - Dozens of Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire on Friday as thousands returned to the Gaza border for a sixth week of protests that have seen nearly 50 demonstrators killed.

Medics treated 431 people with various injuries, including 98 wounded by live fire and rubber bullets, the Gaza health ministry said. Black smoke billowed over a protest camp east of Gaza City where Palestinians burned tyres and flew kites, at least one carrying a Molotov cocktail intended to set fire to nearby Israeli fields.

After advancing toward the border fence, protesters would retreat as the Israeli army fired tear gas.

A military spokeswoman said that some of the protesters threw stones at the Israeli forces.

The army also said there was an attempt to “sabotage the security fence and to infiltrate into Israel”. It said the attempt was “thwarted” when soldiers arrived at the scene and the Palestinians involved returned to the Gaza Strip.

Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30, and hundreds of others have been wounded by gunfire.

Crowds were smaller on Friday than in previous weeks, with Palestinians saying they expect a major protest on May 14, when the United States will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israel says its soldiers only open fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.

No Israelis have been hurt in the weeks of protests and the military has faced international criticism for its use of live ammunition.

Shifa Abu Qadous, 28, whose family is originally from Jaffa, part of Tel Aviv, was bringing water to protesters near the border fence. Wearing a headscarf and a dust-mask hanging around her neck, she said she came to the protests every week. “I’m not afraid, there’s only one death,” she said. “Today or tomorrow or after that we will return to our homes.”

In central Gaza, protesters gathered east of the Bureij refugee camp. Youths met behind a series of bunkers reinforced with sandbags in the area leading up to the border with Israel, while older demonstrators remained further back at protest tents.

Early in the day, a group of Palestinian youths threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers, who had taken up position some 50 metres (yards) away on the other side of the fence.

Meanwhile, President Mahmud Abbas was reelected head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Friday, as the veteran leader seeks to strengthen his control over politics in the occupied West Bank. A four-day meeting of the PLO’s parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which was not attended by Abbas’s Islamist rivals Hamas, backed Abbas and selected a new leadership of the PLO’s executive committee.

“President Abu Mazen (Abbas) was nominated and unanimously approved as the president of the State of Palestine,” senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told AFP.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas apologised Friday over alleged anti-Semitic comments that drew global condemnation.

“If people were offended by my statement at the Palestinian National Council, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologise to them,” he said in a statement, days after appearing to suggest Jewish behaviour, including money lending, led to their persecution in Europe.

The English-language statement added he wanted “to reiterate our long held condemnation of the Holocaust, as the most heinous crime in history”.

“We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, and confirm our commitment to the two-state solution, and to (living) side by side in peace and security.”