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Egyptian delegation tours Gaza clashes as promised calm largely holds

Hamas member says violence reined in to give Egyptian truce efforts a chance, but warns of escalation if blockade not lifted

Palestinians react to tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza City near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on November 2, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians react to tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza City near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel on November 2, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

An Egyptian security delegation toured the Gaza border protests Friday, and even though thousands of Palestinians turned up, they were the quietest in several months, witnesses said.

The visit came amid efforts by Egypt to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.

The delegation briefly attended the demonstrations in northern Gaza, a statement from the head of the organizing committee said. Eyewitnesses said a car carrying the delegation briefly drove to a protest site a few hundred meters from the border, before departing.

A senior Hamas member said the clashes were scaled down to give diplomatic efforts a chance amid talk of a breakthrough in months of Egyptian-led negotiations.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya holds a press conference on April 18, 2017, in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Khalil al-Hayya said the terror group is “testing” Egyptian-led efforts to broker a ceasefire to ease an 11-year-old blockade on Gaza.

Fiercer clashes will resume if the blockade remains in place, al-Hayya warned.

Israel and Egypt largely sealed their borders with Gaza after Hamas seized control in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority, citing a need to prevent weapons smuggling.

Thousands again gathered at multiple sites near the frontier Friday but largely stayed away from the border fence, AFP correspondents said.

Security forces loyal to Hamas prevented protesters from approaching the border too closely, the correspondents said.

The Haaretz daily put turnout at some 7,000 demonstrators and quoted the Israel Defense Forces as saying about half of those present approached the border fence, while the rest remained at a distance and did not clash with soldiers.

The protest ended earlier than usual.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 32 Palestinians were injured during the protests, including seven by Israeli fire, which The Associated Press said was the lowest casualty figures reported since the start of the demonstrations.

A Palestinian pulls another Palestinian on a wheelchair amid clouds of tear gas fired by Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza City near the Israeli border on November 2, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Armed factions in Gaza on Thursday had agreed to rein in violence along the security fence in light of the latest Egyptian-efforts to reach a ceasefire with Israel.

A senior Hamas member told the Ynet news site groups in Gaza agreed to stop protesters from burning tires, throwing firebombs and approaching the border during rallies until Sunday.

He said the protesters would also refrain from launching incendiary devices toward Israel over the weekend.

Egypt and UN officials have been engaged in indirect talks between Hamas, the Islamist terror group that runs the Gaza Strip, and Israel.

Israel has accused Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, of leading the protests and using them as cover to carry out attacks against troops stationed the border

Since often violent protests began on March 30, over 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during protests and clashes along the border, including a number of people who broke through the fence into Israel. Dozens of the fatalities were Hamas members.

One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl stones during clashes on a beach near the maritime border with Israel, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 29, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In a statement after a meeting of their leaders in Gaza on Thursday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the marches would continue, albeit without violence.

Both groups praised Egyptian and UN efforts to broker a deal.

A separate statement by Islamic Jihad carried by Israeli media threatened that it would use a “new tactic” along the border, without providing details.

A leader of the Iran-backed terror group told Haaretz the Egyptians had agreed to work to curb any Israeli response to the protests over the next three weeks. The unnamed official said the protests could be called off after that period if Israel keeps to its commitment to ease a blockade on the Strip.

There was no comment from Egyptian officials.

Last week’s clashes, in which seven Palestinians were reported killed, was followed by Islamic Jihad rocket launches at Israel and retaliatory Israeli Air Force raids, dashing hopes of what was expected to be a calmer weekend along the border.

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