1,000 protest on Gaza border as Hamas chief vows to lead new demonstrations

1,000 protest on Gaza border as Hamas chief vows to lead new demonstrations

Ismail Haniyeh denies a deal has been reached with Egypt to call off the protests after Cairo opens Rafah crossing for entire month of Ramadan

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018, at al-Omary mosque in Gaza City. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018, at al-Omary mosque in Gaza City. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The leader of the Hamas terror group on Friday vowed he would personally lead fresh protests at the Gaza border fence, days after 62 Palestinians were killed in clashes there with Israeli forces. Hamas has said 50 of the fatalities were its members.

Ismail Haniyeh also denied a deal had been made to end seven weeks of border protests, promising they would continue.

The IDF said there were some 1,000 taking part in clashes along the border fence on Friday afternoon and several thousand in protest camps further back. Demonstrators were slinging stones, burning tires and flying flaming kites into Israel.

Soldiers were responding with riot disposal means and live fire in accordance with rules of engagement, the IDF said.

Also Friday, the IDF said it had facilitated the transfer of seven of the Gaza wounded who had Jordanian citizenship from Gaza to Jordan for medical treatment.

Speaking at a Gaza City mosque during midday prayers on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Haniyeh said: “We will all go, and me first of you, to the Gaza border.

“The marches will not stop until the siege is lifted completely from the Gaza Strip.”

Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since Hamas took over the Strip in 2007 in an attempt to prevent the terror group bringing in weapons, rockets and material for the construction of fortifications and attack tunnels.

Palestinian demonstrators use slingshots to hurl rocks at Israeli forces during clashes along the border with the Gaza strip east of Khan Yunis on May 18, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Haniyeh had previously touted the aims of the protests, known as the “March of Return,” as the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to all of Palestine.

“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the ‘right of return’ only as a slogan,” he said at one of the first of the protests in the last six weeks.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

No deal with Egypt

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi announced late Thursday at the start of Ramadan that his country’s border with Gaza would be open throughout the holy month to “alleviate the suffering” of Gazans.

Local media have speculated that a deal has been struck for Egypt, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, to open the border in exchange for Hamas ending the protests.

Haniyeh welcomed Sissi’s decision but denied any such an agreement.

“There is a rumor that Hamas made a deal with Egypt to end the marches. This is baseless,” he said.

Palestinians wait to travel to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 18, 2018. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza for a month, allowing Palestinians to cross during the holy period of Ramadan. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Egypt reportedly played a large role in convincing Hamas to call of protests this week after deadly clashes with Israeli troops at the border fence Monday. Sixty people were killed Monday and another two on Tuesday during the demonstrations, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said 50 of them were members of the terror group which controls the Strip. Three others were Islamic Jihad members.

Bardawil’s acknowledgement undercut previous claims by Hamas and other organizers of the rallies that they were peaceful.

Hamas’s Salah Bardawil (right) acknowledges 50 Hamas fatalities among the 62 killed on Israel-Gaza border, May 16, 2018 (Screenshot)

Sissi on Wednesday said his government was communicating with both sides “so that this bloodshed would stop.”

Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the Hamas terror group and used as cover for attempted terror attacks and breaches of the border fence.

The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue.

On Thursday, the Israeli Defense Ministry said the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the coastal enclave was being partially restored, less than a week after Palestinian rioters burned the fuel terminal at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

On Tuesday, Israel reopened the trucking lanes of the Kerem Shalom Crossing and began allowing through medical supplies and commercial goods, though in two cases Palestinian officials refused to accept the trucks.

Palestinian Authority officials, working on the Gaza side of the crossing, sent back 14 trucks worth of food and diapers on Tuesday, for unclear reasons. The next day, Hamas officials inside Gaza refused to accept two shipments of medical supplies, despite shortages in the Strip’s hospitals, because they were provided by the Israeli military.

While the inability to import medical equipment and other essential goods to the Gaza Strip due to the temporary closure of the crossing was a source of concern, international officials this week warned of the dire consequences of the lack of fuel.

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