Amid fears of fresh Gaza fighting, Hamas issues rare call for calm
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Amid fears of fresh Gaza fighting, Hamas issues rare call for calm

Terror group tells protesters to avoid friction with Israeli troops; some Gazans urge tires be painted and planted with flowers instead of burned

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Disabled Palestinians play volleyball near to the site of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces following a protest along the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 5, 2018. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
Disabled Palestinians play volleyball near to the site of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces following a protest along the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 5, 2018. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

Hamas on Thursday urged Palestinians to “maintain the peacefulness” of the mass protests scheduled to take place along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, issuing a rare call for calm as both sides geared up for fresh violence Friday.

A statement issued by Hamas’s internal security apparatus also urged Palestinians to avoid friction with the Israel Defense Forces during the protests, which are part of the so-called March of Return orchestrated by the terror group and other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

The statement was the first time that Hamas, a terror group which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has called on Palestinians to avoid friction with IDF soldiers. Last week’s protest was also billed as a peaceful demonstration, but quickly devolved into violent and deadly confrontations between troops and Gaza protesters.

The appeal to avoid friction with the IDF is seen as a call to Palestinians not to go too close to the security fence, where they are at risk of being shot at by IDF snipers.

It could also be interpreted as a call to Palestinians to refrain from engaging in violent actions, such as throwing stones and rocks at IDF soldiers.

A Palestinian protestor uses a slingshot to throw a stone during clashes with Israeli forces following a tent city gathering at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City on April 4, 2018. (AFP MAHMUD HAMS)

The Hamas security agency appealed to the demonstrators to “cooperate with the instructions of the organizers” of the March of Return.

The agency advised Palestinians to avoid wearing clothes with standout colors, to camouflage their faces as much as possible, and to avoid taking photography and using smart phones.

The “security recommendations” are specifically directed towards Hamas activists out of fear that they could be targeted by IDF snipers.

Asaad abu Sharkh, a spokesman and member of the organizing committee of the protests, also said better attempts will be made on Friday to keep Gazans from approaching the fence.

“I think this was a mistake, a mistake of organisation from us because we shouldn’t have let people [go to the border],” he said.

“But at the same time we were not expecting the Israelis to shoot to kill.”

He added that “I don’t think there is going to be another massacre.”

Palestinians run, as teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops land near them during a demonstration near the Gaza Strip security fence, east of Gaza City on March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Responding to claims that the army targeted peaceful protesters, IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said last week the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.

Hamas acknowledges that at least five of its men were killed by IDF snipers during last Friday’s events adjacent to the border with Israel. Israel has identified 10 members of Hamas and other terror groups were among those killed, and claims terrorists tried to used the chaos to plant bombs on the border or carry out attacks.

Hamas leaders themselves have threatened renewed violence on Friday, with politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh saying Sunday that protests might not stop at the border next time around.

Tiring of fumes

The Hamas appeal for calm came as Palestinians continued to transport hundreds of tires to the scenes of the planned protests Thursday. The demonstrators are hoping that large plumes of black smoke will block the view of the IDF snipers.

But in a surprise move, some Palestinians on Thursday expressed opposition to the idea of the tire-burning, mainly because of the damage the smoke would cause to the environment.

A Palestinian youth collects tires that will be burned during protests along the Gaza border in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

A group of Palestinian youths launched a campaign under the banner, “Instead of setting them on fire, let’s decorate them” — a reference to the plan to burn the tires.

The youths were seen painting tires in bright colors and planting some of them with flowers.

Amal Breikeh, one of the organizers of the campaign to save the tires, explained in an interview with the Gazaonline website: “We want to relay a civilized message to the world that illustrates the peacefulness of the protest. We want to stop the initiative to burn the tires because of the damage to the health of the protesters and the environment, despite its noble goal to stop the snipers from assassinating the peaceful protesters.”

Meanwhile, the organizers of the “March of Return” on Thursday called on Palestinians to participate in rallies to commemorate the Palestinians who were killed in last Friday’s events. The rallies will be held at the sites of the demonstrations planned for Friday.

A statement issued by the National Forum of the March of Return, one of several bodies responsible for the protests, also urged Palestinians to maintain the “peacefulness” of the rallies.

The group said that the protests, which are aimed at ending the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip — which Israel says is vital to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry — and foiling US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, will continue.

Palestinian protestors shout slogans during clashes with Israeli forces following a tent city gathering at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City on April 4, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said on Thursday that the Palestinians will continue their “struggle until they achieve their freedom and restore all their lands.” He said that the Palestinians’ “right to all of the soil of Palestine was absolute and clear.”

The name March of Return refers to claims by Palestinian refugees and their descendants on lands inside Israel.

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 has generally been 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.

AFP contributed to this report.

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