Thousands of people gathered in Gaza on Saturday for the funeral of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old Palestinian medic who witnesses say Israeli soldiers shot dead near the border fence on Friday.

Medical workers, dressed in white uniforms, marched in her funeral procession, holding Palestinian flags and photos of her face. Her father walked holding his daughter's own medical vest, once white, now stained red with her blood.

UN officials condemned the killing of Najjar, saying that witness reports indicated she wore clothing that clearly identified her as a health worker.

Volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21, centre, is seen before being shot through the chest by Israeli troops while running to attend to an injured person. Photo / AP
Volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21, centre, is seen before being shot through the chest by Israeli troops while running to attend to an injured person. Photo / AP

"The killing of a clearly identified medical staffer by security forces during a demonstration is particularly reprehensible," said Jamie McGoldrick, the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator.

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After Najjar's funeral, dozens of mourners headed to the fence and started throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers on the other side. The Palestinian Health Ministry said five protesters were wounded by Israeli fire.

More than 115 people have been killed since protests began on the border at the end of March, but Najjar is only the second woman to die. The first was a teenage protester.

Photos from the scene immediately after Najjar was shot show a group of men carrying the volunteer in her white uniform, her head tilted back and her gloved hand limp around their shoulders. Witnesses said she was shot in the chest.

Palestinian protesters evacuate Razan Najjar, 21, near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. Najjar was to die from the gunshot. Photo / AP
Palestinian protesters evacuate Razan Najjar, 21, near the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. Najjar was to die from the gunshot. Photo / AP

The Israeli military said on Saturday that it would investigate her death but that its troops worked "in accordance with standard operating procedures."

"The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) constantly works to draw operational lessons and reduce the number of casualties in the area of the Gaza Strip security fence," the military said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Hamas terror organization deliberately and methodically places civilians in danger."

UN officials condemned the killing of Najjar, saying that witness reports indicated she wore clothing that clearly identified her as a health worker.

"The killing of a clearly identified medical staffer by security forces during a demonstration is particularly reprehensible," said Jamie McGoldrick, the local UN humanitarian coordinator.

Last month, the New York Times interviewed Najjar in Gaza. She was one of the only female medics responding to medical emergencies during the protests organised by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.

"We have one goal - to save lives and evacuate people," she said in the video. "And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything."

After her death, a volunteer ambulance worker, Izzat Shatat, told the Associated Press that he and Najjar were planning to announce their engagement at the end of Ramadan.

Palestinians attend the funeral ceremony of Razan Ashraf Najjar, 21, who was shot dead by Israeli forces. Photo / AP
Palestinians attend the funeral ceremony of Razan Ashraf Najjar, 21, who was shot dead by Israeli forces. Photo / AP

On May 14, the same day the United States opened its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip. Hamas called the protests the Great March of Return. The demonstrations intended to shed light on the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, and also call for "right of return" for Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 war.

Organisers encouraged the protesters to try to burst through the fence into Israel, and Israeli soldiers responded with firepower. They killed dozens of people, including teenagers, and wounded at least 2,700 demonstrators, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The United Nations said that "those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account."

But on Friday, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israel's "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force" against Palestinians. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called the resolution one-sided. The White House has blamed Hamas for the violence in Gaza.

After Najjar died in the operating room on Friday, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Middle East envoy, tweeted that "#Israel needs to calibrate its use of force and Hamas need to prevent incidents at the fence. Escalation only costs more lives."

"Medical workers are #NotATarget!" he wrote.

In her interview with the New York Times, Najjar said that Gaza needed more female medics like herself.

"The strength that I showed as a first responder on the first day of protests, I dare you to find it anyone else," she said.

Palestinian mourners attend the prayer during a funeral service for a volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21. Photo / AP
Palestinian mourners attend the prayer during a funeral service for a volunteer paramedic Razan Najjar, 21. Photo / AP

Israel insists that throughout the weeks-long campaign its troops have fired only at instigators and that Hamas has been cynically using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks. But military officials have acknowledged shooting some people by mistake due to the crowded and smoky conditions of the protests.

Palestinians and human rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using excessive force, and of killing unarmed Palestinians who did not pose an imminent threat both in the West Bank and Gaza.

Najjar's body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag as the funeral procession started from the hospital and passed near her home in Khuzaa, a village near the Khan Younis that is close to the border and has served as one of five protest encampments across Gaza in recent weeks. She was the eldest of six siblings.

"I want the world to hear my voice ... what's my daughter's fault?" asked her mother Sabreen, dressed in black and seated on a mattress in her living room. "She will leave a large emptiness at home."

Fares al-Kidra, a colleague of Najjar, said they were approaching the fence to evacuate a wounded man and, as they were leaving, three gunshots were heard and Najjar fell to the ground.

Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based rights group, said Najjar was 100 metres from the fence and wearing a clearly marked paramedic's vest when she was shot.

Social media videos, and one captured by Associated Press footage, showed Najjar and a cohort of medics walking toward the fence and raising their hands to reach a wounded man lying on the ground. Najjar wore a dark blue headscarf and a white coat with the logo of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, where she volunteered.

Izzat Shatat, 23, a volunteering ambulance worker, said he and Najjar were set to announce their engagement at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. He said he was worried and asked her not to go to the border area Friday but she refused.

"She helped all people. She has never refused to help. She was the first to run toward anybody when he is shot," he said in tears.

- with AP