Wintry weather and diplomacy cool down Gaza border protests

Demonstrators are weighing up new ways to confront the Israeli military in the occupied Gaza Strip. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018

Wintry weather and diplomacy cool down Gaza border protests

  • Israeli forces have killed more than 219 Palestinians at the border protests
  • The protests draw tens of thousands of people after Muslim prayers on Fridays

GAZA: A seasonal shift in the weather and intensified international diplomacy are prompting Palestinians mounting protests along Gaza’s border with Israel to rethink their tactics.

Since the demonstrations started more than seven months ago, protesters routinely made attempts to breach Israel’s frontier fence and launched incendiary balloons and kites to burn forests and crops inside Israel.

Israeli forces have killed more than 219 Palestinians at the border protests, according to Gazan officials. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper.

The protests draw tens of thousands of people after Muslim prayers on Fridays. But last week was the quietest so far, according to journalists who regularly cover the demonstrations.

Smoke from burning tires wafting toward Israel provided a measure of cover for Palestinian youngsters approaching the barrier, but a wintry change in wind direction sent the thick black clouds back into Gaza and Israeli tear gas deeper into the crowd of protesters, forcing their retreat.

Stepped-up efforts by Egypt to craft a long-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that could ease an Israeli blockade are also dampening the protests.

One official familiar with the talks said a cease-fire would include a gradual end to the rallies, or an agreement to hold them far from the fence, as well as an easing of Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people at the border.

Organizers have made clear the protests would continue until the long-standing Israeli border restrictions were lifted. Dubbed the “Great March of Return,” the campaign demands the rights to lands Palestinian families fled or were driven from during fighting around Israel’s founding in 1948.

One protester, wearing a black mask, said demonstrators were weighing up new ways to confront the Israeli military now that seasonal rains have begun.

“We may use fire crackers, noisy horns and we will try to cut through the fence. We will surprise them with things we will not make public now,” said the 23-year-old, who gave his name only as Hakim.

One idea, he said, was to build a giant slingshot to launch rocks across the barbed wire barrier.

A statement by a Palestinian group which claimed responsibility for balloon launchings said it would allow time for diplomacy to work before escalating action again.

“We will give a chance for an agreement to be reached that will ease the bitterness of the blockade imposed on our people,” said the Sons of Zwary group. The group was named after a Hamas engineer killed in Tunisia in an alleged Israeli assassination.

In the meantime, it said, it was preparing hundreds of incendiary devices.

Daoud Shehab, of the National Committee supervising the protests, said five assembly areas were being prepared for winter.

“We are placing plastic sheeting to cover large areas and we are also going to pave the ground where people usually gather,” he said.

Earlier Gaza’s Interior Ministry said Egyptian naval forces fired on a Palestinian fishing boat and killed a fisherman, but an Egyptian military source denied the report.

Egypt’s navy has in the past shot at Gazans whom it has accused of crossing the maritime border. There was no initial information on whether the fishing boat had crossed into Egyptian waters.

Wednesday’s incident took place off the coast after dark near the southern border town of Rafah, said Gaza’s Interior Ministry, which is run by officials loyal to Hamas.

“Egyptian naval vessels fired toward a Palestinian fishing boat near the southern sea border of Gaza Strip which led to the death of Mustafa Abu Odah, 30,” the ministry statement said.

In Cairo, an Egyptian military source denied the report.


Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

Updated 21 min 51 sec ago

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

  • 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea
  • It came days after Libyan navy patrols “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats

TRIPOLI: The Libyan navy said Sunday 335 migrants had been rescued and one body recovered in separate operations off the coast, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat rescued Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP.
He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt.
It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli,” Kacem added.
The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometers west of the capital.
According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.
One body was also recovered by the coast guard.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.
In general, migrants rescued at sea are first met by humanitarian agencies that provide medical care and food.
They are then taken into the charge of the body working to combat immigration at the interior ministry of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.
On August 9, the Libyan navy accused the authorities of failing to manage migrants rescued at sea, claiming that it could be forced to let people go free once brought back to land.
Despite the risks, migrants continue to attempt to reach Europe by sea, preferring to take their chances than stay in Libya, where they are subject to abuse, extortion and torture, according to humanitarian organizations.