May 30, 2008 - 5:06pm

Israeli troops used gunfire and teargas on Friday to keep more than 3,000 Hamas supporters from approaching one of the Gaza Strip's main border crossings with Israel, wounding at least six Palestinians, witnesses said.

At least two of the wounded were in a critical condition, Palestinian medical workers said.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the protest at the Sufa border crossing was part of a stepped up campaign to break Israel's blockade of the coastal territory, which the Islamist group seized last June from rival forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Hamas will use all means to end the siege ... We will use stronger and more violent means in the future," Abu Zuhri said, though he offered not details.

The Israeli army had posted signs before the protest warning Palestinians that they faced "Danger of Death" if they tried to approach the Sufa crossing, used to bring some humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has mounted several similar protests in recent months, demanding an end to an Israeli-led economic blockade which has increased hardships for the territory's 1.5 million residents.

Hamas blew open the border with Egypt earlier this year, putting Israel on heightened alert for similar actions. Israel says the blockade is meant to curb militants who fire cross-border rockets into the Jewish state.

The demonstrators on Friday burnt tires, waved green Hamas flags and chanted "Dismantle the siege".

An Israeli military official said troops shot into the crowd to "make the rioters back off".

"The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) will operate with all its strength to prevent the demonstrators from approaching the security fence or the crossing ... and from entering the state of Israel," the official said.

Separately, Palestinian medical workers said a 65-year-old woman died on Friday from wounds suffered a day earlier.

The Palestinians said the woman was hit during an Israeli army raid near her home in the southern Gaza Strip.

An army spokesman denied any military action in the area.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Avida Landau; Writing by Adam Entous; Editing by Alison Williams)


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