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.


UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

Updated 42 min 59 sec ago
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UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

  • The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups
  • The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation

JERUSALEM: The United Nations and the Palestinian Authority on Monday appealed for $350 million in humanitarian relief for Palestinians next year, saying that they needed more but had to be realistic in the face of “record-low” funding.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups, including UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation, said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“Humanitarian actors are facing unprecedented challenges, including record-low funding and a rise in attacks to delegitimize humanitarian action,” he said in a joint statement issued on Monday, ahead of the appeal’s launch in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Although “much more assistance is needed,” McGoldrick said, the plan was “reflecting what we can realistically accomplish in this highly constrained context.”
Over the past year, the United States has slashed its funding to the Palestinians, including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million Palestinian refugees.
The United States promised $365 million to the agency in 2018, but paid only a first instalment of $60 million before announcing in August that it would halt all future donations.
The move was widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter peace negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
US-brokered peace talks between the sides collapsed in 2014 and a bid by US President Donald Trump to restart them has so far showed little progress.
Around 77 percent of the funds sought in the 2019 plan would go to Gaza, the appeal organizers said, because the densely populated coastal strip faced a “dire humanitarian situation” after years of an Israeli-led blockade, internal Palestinian political divisions and casualties from demonstrations and recurring hostilities.
“The humanitarian context in the oPt (Occupied Palestinian Territories) is still deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation violations in a time of lack of resources and declining funds because of the politicization of the humanitarian aid,” Palestinian Social Development Minister Ibrahim Al-Shaer said in the statement.