Fresh protests expected on Gaza-Israel border

2018-04-13 07:30

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Gazans are preparing for a third consecutive on Friday of protests along the border with Israel, after mass demonstrations since March 30 that have sparked violence in which Israeli forces have killed 32 Palestinians.

Here is a look at what to expect:

What are the protests?

For the past two Fridays, tens of thousands of Palestinians have gathered near the border at five main sites across the Gaza Strip for what has been dubbed the "Great March of Return".

While the majority of the protesters have been peaceful, smaller numbers have approached Israel's border fence, throwing stones and rolling burning tyres towards troops.

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

It has also pledged to stop any damage to the fence as well as infiltration bids, and it says there have been attempts at both.

Israel has responded with snipers firing live ammunition, as well as tank shelling and airstrikes.

Thirty-two Palestinians have been killed since March 30 and hundreds of others have been injured. There have been no Israeli casualties.

Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.

Organisers reject that Hamas is behind the protests, saying the rallies are independent and the Islamist movement is one of many groups involved.

Who are the dead?

Israel said after the first Friday on March 30, when 19 people were killed, that more than half of them were members of militant groups.

Hamas's armed wing claimed only five of the dead and said they were participating "in popular events side-by-side with their people".

Militant group Islamic Jihad has claimed at least one of the dead as a member.

Last Friday, among the nine dead was a journalist who witnesses said was wearing a press vest, sparking criticism of Israel.

The Jewish state eventually claimed the man killed, Yasser Murtaja, was a paid member of Hamas, but produced no evidence.

It subsequently turned out the company he co-founded had been vetted for US government funding, while he was harassed and beaten by Hamas police in 2015.

Will Israel investigate?

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and others have called for an independent investigation into the deaths.

Israel has rejected calls for a probe and insists its open-fire rules for Gaza will not change.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday there were "no naive" people among Gaza's two-million population.

"Everyone's connected to Hamas, everyone gets a salary from Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are Hamas military wing activists," he said.

What are they calling for?

The march is calling for the right of return - meaning Palestinian refugees being allowed to go back to the land they fled or were expelled from during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.

This is supported by the United Nations in a resolution but has never been implemented, while around five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants live in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and countries surrounding Israel.

It is a key issue for Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys of the homes their families were forced to leave.

Israelis say demanding they be allowed to return amounts to calling for the Jewish state to cease to exist.

Protests are to continue until mid-May, around the time the United States is due to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

President Donald Trump's controversial decision to move the embassy infuriated Palestinians, who see the annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The official end date of the protests is May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba, or "catastrophe," commemorating the more than 700 000 who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war.

What are causes of the protests? 

Analysts say the protests are fuelled by growing desperation in Gaza, which has been under a strict Israeli blockade for a decade.

Egypt has also largely sealed its border with the enclave in recent years, citing security reasons, though it is open this week between Thursday and Saturday in an unusual move.

President Mahmud Abbas's internationally recognised Palestinian government, based in the West Bank and opposed to Hamas, has also increased measures against Gaza.

The result has been a stagnant economy with unemployment of around 40 percent and youth unemployment even higher.

Protesters cite the lack of opportunities in Gaza for their participation in the rallies, with many claiming they are not afraid of death.

Israel also says that Hamas glorifies death and encourages angry young men to seek "martyrdom". The Islamist movement has paid the families of those killed $3 000.

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Read more on:    palestine  |  israel

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