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
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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.


Syria's return to Arab League not on summit agenda: spokesman

Updated 24 March 2019
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Syria's return to Arab League not on summit agenda: spokesman

  • The pan-Arab bloc, which is set to hold its annual summit in Tunisia on March 31, froze Syria's membership in November 2011 over a bloody government crackdown on protestors
  • But several of the bloc's other 21 members have recently renewed ties with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad

CAIRO: The Arab League said Sunday it was not planning to discuss reinstating Syria's membership at a summit later this month, more than eight years after suspending it as the country descended into war.
The pan-Arab bloc, which is set to hold its annual summit in Tunisia on March 31, froze Syria's membership in November 2011 over a bloody government crackdown on protestors.
But several of the bloc's other 21 members have recently renewed ties with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and some have called for Syria to be re-admitted to the league.
"The issue of Syria's return to the Arab League has yet to be listed on the agenda and has not been formally proposed," said the League's spokesman Mahmoud Afifi.
He noted that the "Syrian crisis" however still tops the agenda, along with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Yemen and Libya.
Syria's conflict flared in 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that sparked a brutal regime crackdown.
It has since drawn in regional powers, killing 370,000 people and displacing millions.
But the regime, backed by allies Russia and Iran, has since re-conquered much of the territory it had lost to rebels and terrorists, and now controls some two-thirds of the country.
Syria's Kurds, which declared victory over Daesh on Saturday, control much of the oil-rich northeast, which the regime has hinted it may seize back in a military operation.
Earlier this month, Syrian officials attended a meeting of Arab states in neighbouring Jordan for the first time since the country's Arab League membership was suspended.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in December made the first visit of any Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011.
The same month, Egypt hosted Syria's national security chief and top Assad aide Ali Mamluk.
The UAE also reopened its Damascus embassy in a major sign of a diplomatic thaw.
Arab states have also slammed US President Donald Trump's call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic territory the Jewish state seized from Syria in 1967.