ISRAEL’S defence minister has said the military will not change its tough response to Hamas-led mass protests near Gaza’s border with the country, warning those who approach will endanger their lives.

Avigdor Lieberman spoke near Gaza, where 18 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Friday, the first day of what Hamas said will be six weeks of intermittent border protests against a stifling blockade of the territory.

Lieberman’s comments raised the possibility of more bloodshed this Friday, when another large mass protest is expected.

Also yesterday, the international group Human Rights Watch accused Lieberman and other senior Israeli officials of unlawfully calling for the use of live fire against Palestinian protesters who posed no imminent threat to life.

Last Friday, thousands of Palestinians marched near the border fence between Israel and Gaza, many gathering around tent encampments set up several hundred metres from the frontier.

Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, hurling firebombs or burning tyres. Israeli troops were lined up on the other side of the fence, including snipers perched on high earth embankments overlooking Gaza.

Palestinian health officials have said 18 Palestinians were killed that day, including 13 involved in the mass protest, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas.

More than 750 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, according to Gaza health officials.

The Israeli military has claimed, without elaborating, that it believes the figure was overblown and that dozens, at most, were injured by live rounds. Israeli officials have said soldiers in the border area had orders to target the “main instigators” and those who approach the border.

Human Rights Watch said Israel has presented no evidence that rock-throwing or other violence seriously threatened the soldiers on the other side of the fence.

Lieberman has rejected international calls for an independent investigation.