Gaza's 'human chain' a few links short

Only 5,000 show up at demo; thousands of soldiers idle as fears of border breach prove unfounded.

soldiers paint 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
soldiers paint 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Despite concerns that Palestinian demonstrators against the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip would attempt to storm the border with Israel during a "human chain" demonstration Monday, the event itself proved an anticlimax and the thousands of Israeli security personnel manning the Israeli side of the border were not forced to cope with the nightmare scenario. About 5,000 people, many of them schoolchildren released from school early to attend the event and university students, joined the "human chain" outside the town of Beit Hanoun, about six kilometers from the border. The crowd hoisted banners in English and Arabic, saying "End the siege of Gaza now," and "Your siege will not break our will." Organizers had hoped to form a chain running the length of the 40-kilometer Gaza Strip, but turnout was well below expectations. After the protest ended, some 2,000 Hamas loyalists marched to a checkpoint several kilometers away from Erez Checkpoint. Hamas police, however, blocked the main road leading to Erez and called on loyalists to obey the law. In preparation for the protest, security forces mobilized along the security fence Sunday night in an effort to head off a replay of last month's Rafah border-storming at the Erez or Kissufim crossings. An artillery battery was moved to the Gaza border for the first time in months, and rules of engagement were reviewed as troops prepared for the demonstration. The IDF was unwilling to confirm or deny a Channel 2 news report saying soldiers would be instructed to fire at protesters' legs should they approach the security fence, in order to prevent a recurrence of what happened at the Gaza-Sinai border on January 23. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report