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.


Protests to escalate with bigger Palestinian participation in Gaza and beyond

Updated 26 April 2018
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Protests to escalate with bigger Palestinian participation in Gaza and beyond

LONDON: Hamas movement’s senior political leader Ismael Haniyeh has warned Israel that forthcoming protests at the border with Gaza are to intensify in the next few weeks.

Hanieh, in a speech in Gaza, promised Israel that protests will escalate after May 15 and will draw Palestinians living in Israel as well as Palestinian diaspora in refugee camps and neighboring countries.

In addition, Haniyyeh said that earlier protests achieved their initial goal by reminding the world that the Palestinians are still suffering under Israeli occupation.

The Hamas leader promised larger demonstrations at the start of Ramadan, that will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Nakba, and the date chosen to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem as well as the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.

A senior official in the Supreme National Council governing the ‘March of Return’ revealed that officials held meetings with the Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip, during which they agreed that all parties will arrange similar protests in the coming weeks.

The official also advised Palestinians in neighboring countries to join the protests against Israel as long as this does not expose them to reprisals, danger or violence on the day.

The senior official said that the Israeli authorities are on high alert and fear for the first time since 1967 that matters might escalate dangerously in May, the month Israelis celebrate the creation of the state of Israel.

And he added that Israel is preparing for a potential Israeli-Palestinian exodus toward villages and towns they were kicked out from in 1948 by Zionist gangs.