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.


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.