Gazans pitch protest tents on Israel border as tensions mount

Youths prepare their tents ahead of mass demonstrations along the Gaza strip border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Thursday, Mar. 29, 2018. (AP)
Updated 29 March 2018
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Gazans pitch protest tents on Israel border as tensions mount

GAZA CITY: Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the volatile border with Israel on Thursday ahead of a six-week protest camp under the gaze of wary Israeli soldiers.
The exceptional protest is dubbed “The Great March of Return” and has the backing of the Gaza Strip’s extremist rulers Hamas.
The protest comes amid rising tensions as the United States prepares to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
Organizers said it would be peaceful but Israeli officials are wary of a fresh flare-up along the enclave’s border.
Armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has warned of escalating tensions along Israel’s borders, “especially among the Palestinians.”
Eisenkot said reinforcements, including more than 100 special forces snipers, had been deployed to the Gaza frontier and the army was prepared for all scenarios.
“We won’t allow mass infiltration into Israel” or damage to the border barrier, he told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
“The instructions are to use a lot of force.”
The first protest will kick off on Friday when Palestinians worldwide mark Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.
Camping and protests in Gaza are expected to continue until mid-May, around the time the US is set to inaugurate its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.
Mid-May will also mark the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, which saw hundreds of thousands flee their homes in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
According to the United Nations, some 1.3 million of Gaza’s 1.9 million residents are refugees or their descendants.
Khaled Al-Batsh, part of the committee planning the protest, said tents would be located 500 meters (yards) from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel.
Water facilities were being installed and medical teams deployed to allow people to stay for long periods.
Organizers said tens of thousands of people would attend Friday’s protest, although it was not clear how the estimate was reached.
Batsh said protesters were calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that is now inside Israel.
“70 years ago we left and today we have decided to return to our country,” he told AFP.
But senior Hamas figure Salah Bardawil said that while protesters might breach the border, they were not planning to do so.
Hamas officials say they will monitor the area beyond the camp sites to prevent protesters going too close to the frontier, at least during the initial days of the protest.
Five main camp sites have been set up, spanning the length of the coastal territory from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah in the far south, near Egypt.
Campers will be within sight of the border, frequently patrolled by Israeli soldiers.
On Thursday, around 20 family tents were pitched at a site near Erez, alongside two larger community tents for performances including the traditional Palestinian “dabke” dance.
At another site, young men were putting the finishing touches on dozens of wooden toilets, while large generators whirred into life.
Another organizer, Tahir Sawirki, told AFP Palestinians would gather Friday in groups representing the towns they left in 1948.
He said tens of thousands of meals would be prepared for more than 100,000 expected participants.


Hamas backs new Egyptian bid for Palestinian unity

Head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. (AP)
Updated 8 min 29 sec ago
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Hamas backs new Egyptian bid for Palestinian unity

  • Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and much of the international community refused to accept the result
  • A previous Egyptian-brokered deal, signed by Hamas and Fatah in October 2017, collapsed on implementation

GAZA: The head of Gaza’s rulers Hamas has announced his backing for a new Egyptian-led push for reconciliation with the rival Palestinian faction Fatah.
The office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said he had spoken with Egypt’s intelligence head Abbas Kamel to inform him of his movement’s backing for a fresh Egyptian-brokered push.
A statement from the movement said the two men discussed the “latest developments in the Palestinian issue and especially the reconciliation file and humanitarian projects for the people of the Gaza Strip.”
Haniyeh’s deputy Saleh Al-Arouri led a delegation to Cairo last week. So far Fatah has not officially responded to this fresh push for reconciliation.
A previous Egyptian-brokered deal, signed by Hamas and Fatah in October 2017, collapsed on implementation.
In March, the head of the Fatah-dominated West Bank government survived a roadside bomb hitting his convoy in a rare visit to Gaza, with his allies later accusing Hamas of planning the attack. It was hoped that reconciliation could alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza, home to some two million people.
The US has signaled its support for a fresh reconciliation push, but diplomats have little optimism.
Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and much of the international community refused to accept the result, leading to increased strife.
A year later, Hamas violently seized control of Gaza. Since then two separate Palestinian civil administrations emerged.