Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the central Gaza Strip January 25, 2019.
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
Factions in the Gaza Strip are urging Palestinians to participate in Saturday’s mass protests near the border with Israel afternoon prayers. The factions urged Palestinians on Thursday to “maintain the peaceful and popular nature” of the protests, and said they don’t want to give Israel an excuse to use force against the demonstrators.
Saturday’s protests marking the first anniversary of the “Great March of Return” weekly demonstrations coincides with Land Day, an annual day of commemoration of the events that took place in Israel in 1976 after the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate thousands of hectares in the Galilee.
The organizers said they are hoping that tens of thousands of Gazans will join the mass protests.
The call for mass participation in Saturday’s protests near the border with Israel came as Egyptian intelligence officials held talks in the Gaza Strip with leaders of various Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to discuss ways of averting an all-out confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel.
The Egyptian security delegation, headed by Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, arrived in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday. On Thursday afternoon, the delegation headed back to Israel to brief Israeli officials on the outcome of their talks with the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said that the Egyptian intelligence officials demanded that the Palestinian factions work towards preventing Palestinians from engaging in violence during Saturday's protests. The Egyptians reportedly relayed a message from Israel to the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the effect that Israel will respond with full force to any attempt to infiltrate the border or harm its soldiers.
The Egyptian officials are expected to return to the Gaza Strip on Friday, said Talal Abu Tharifah, a senior official with the PLO’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Egyptians, he said, will brief the leaders of the Palestinian factions on the results of their talks in Israel, especially with regards to the demand that Israel ease restrictions imposed on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
Talal Abu Tharifah said that the organizers of the “Great March of Return” have made it clear that Saturday’s demonstrations will be “peaceful.”
Khaled al-Batsh – head of the National Authority for the Great March of Return, the body that launched the weekly protests in March 2018 – called for “preserving the popular nature” of the protests so as not to give Israel an excuse to use force against the Palestinians.
“Our people have decided to march towards freedom regardless of the cost and sacrifices,” said al-Batsh during a press conference in Gaza City. He called on representatives of the media and human rights organizations to come to the sites of the protests to witness the “historic” event.
The organizers of the protests urged Palestinian participants to display discipline and “watch out for the bullets of the soldiers and snipers.” They also called on the protesters to stay in five encampments that would be established near the border with Israel and “cooperate with the organizing committees to maintain the safety of the residents.”
Husam Badran, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said on Thursday that the weekly protests near the border with Israel will increase and expand in the coming days and weeks. He said that calm and stability on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip was “dependent on the extent of the Israeli government’s adherence to understandings that were reached to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip.” The Israelis living near the border with the Gaza Strip will continue to live in anxiety as long as the Palestinians are suffering due to the blockade, he added.
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