Four killed as thousands protest at Gaza-Israel border

Four killed as thousands protest at Gaza-Israel border
Despite a truce holding during protests marking the anniversary of the Great Return March, four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire at the Gaza-Israel border.
3 min read
31 March, 2019
The UN has accused Israel of war crimes for its response along the border [Getty]
At least four people were killed by Israeli fire during large Palestinian protests marking the Great Return March anniversary along the border between Israel and Gaza, the health ministry in Gaza City said.

One was killed during a demonstration ahead of the main rally and three 17-year-olds in clashes later on Saturday, authorities in Gaza said, noting another 316 Gazans were wounded.

Tens of thousands gathered at five protest points along the frontier but the vast majority stayed away from the border fence.

Israel deployed several thousand troops along the border, with the anniversary coming at a sensitive time ahead of its April 9 elections.

Egypt tried to mediate between Israel and Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas to rein in violence, AFP reported.

Hamas officials said an understanding was reached that would see Israel ease its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for the protests remaining calm.

An Egyptian security delegation visited the protest site east of Gaza City, as did Hamas leaders Ismail Haniya and Yahya Sinwar.

Israel's army said around 40,000 "rioters and demonstrators" had gathered in spots throughout the border.

It said grenades and explosive devices were hurled at troops, who responded "in accordance with standard operating procedures".

Protesters were marking the first anniversary of often violent weekly demonstrations in which around 200 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed.

At least 50 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, charity Save the Children said.

In the run-up to the anniversary, long-time mediator Egypt had shuttled back and forth in a bid to avoid major bloodshed.

'Important message'

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim called Saturday's protest "a very important message" that thousands had gathered "peacefully to raise their voice against aggression and the imposed siege on Gaza".

He confirmed that Egypt had made progress towards a deal that media reports said would see Israel allow more Qatari aid into the strip and ease some restrictions. 

In exchange Hamas would maintain calm at the border protests.

Khalil al-Hayya, another senior figure in the Islamist movement, said they were expecting to receive a timetable from Israel on Sunday. There was no Israeli comment on the alleged agreement.

Meanwhile, five rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, prompting Israeli tanks to respond by firing on Hamas military posts early Sunday.

The rocket attack and Israeli response did not cause any casualties, according to the Israeli army and witnesses in Gaza.

The Israeli tanks fired at Hamas posts in the central Gaza Strip and east of Gaza City, witnesses said.

However, fears of a repeat of similar protests and clashes to those that saw more than 60 Palestinians killed on May 14, when the United States transferred its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, did not materialise.

The anniversary came only days after another severe flare-up between Israel and Hamas, sparked by a rare long-range rocket strike from Gaza that struck north of Tel Aviv. An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire restored calm.

The demonstrators are calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land their families fled or were expelled from during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's creation.

Israel says any such mass return would spell the end of a Jewish state and that its actions have been necessary to defend the border.

It accuses Hamas of orchestrating violence, but its soldiers' use of live fire has come under heavy criticism.

In February a United Nations probe said Israeli soldiers had intentionally fired on civilians in what could constitute war crimes.

Two million Palestinians live in impoverished Gaza, crammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The UN says more than 90 percent of the water is unsafe for drinking and residents receive less than 12 hours of mains electricity a day.

Analysts highlight desperate living conditions and lack of freedom of movement as driving forces behind the protests.

Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas, has blockaded the enclave for more than a decade, and Egypt often closes Gaza's only other gateway to the outside world.

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