GAZA CITY, LONDON: Organizers canceled the main weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, for only the second time in more than a year.
They said a large demonstration had already been held in Gaza on Wednesday to commemorate what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled or fled from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
“Today there are no activities in the ‘return camps’ in the east of the Gaza Strip, due to the high temperature and to provide a break to citizens, who held a large protest two days ago,” the organizing committee said in a statement.
The “march of return” demonstrations have been held at least weekly since March 2018, with the backing of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Friday protests were canceled just once before — after a flare-up between Israel and Hamas in March.
Protesters have been demanding an end to Israel’s more than decade-old blockade of Gaza and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral lands now inside Israel.
Israel says any such return would spell its demise as a Jewish state and accuses Hamas of orchestrating the protests as an excuse for violence.
At least 293 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, the majority during the protests. Six Israelis have been killed in Gaza-related violence.
Facebook bans Israeli firm
In another development, Facebook, facing criticism for enabling disruption of elections worldwide, said it was taking down hundreds of accounts linked to an Israeli political consultancy.
The social media platform said it was banning the Israeli company, Archimedes Group, which on its website boasts of “winning campaigns worldwide”.
The US giant said Thursday it had removed 265 accounts on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, Facebook Pages, Groups and events “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The sites’ activity focused on several African countries and on Latin America and Southeast Asia, and was intended to sway voters by peddling misinformation.
The individuals behind the fake network tried to hide their identities but some of the activity linked back to Archimedes Group, which Facebook said had “repeatedly violated” its policies.
“This organisation and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” the US company’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, wrote in a blog post.
There was no immediate comment from Archimedes, which says it is a leader in “large-scale campaigns worldwide” through its expertise in consulting, lobbying and social media.
About 2.8 million individual accounts followed one or more of the banned Pages, and $812,000 was spent on related ads on Facebook from 2012 to April this year, Gleicher said.
Nine public events were organised by the Pages, most recently this month, but Facebook said it could not confirm whether any of the events had actually occurred.
Facebook has been trying to address the criticism that it has long turned a blind eye to political actors abusing its platforms to sway elections, including the 2016 presidential vote in the US.
“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, and, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge,” Gleicher said.
This week, Facebook joined other tech giants in issuing the “Christchurch Call” to stamp out violent extremist content on the internet, following massacres at two New Zealand mosques in March.