Gaza groups say border protests to stop until March, resume infrequently in 2020
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Gaza groups say border protests to stop until March, resume infrequently in 2020

High Commission for the March of Return says demonstrations will occur on a monthly basis, plus whenever there is a need and ‘during prominent national occasions’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian protesters riot along the security fence east of Gaza City as smoke billows from fields across the fence caused by an incendiary device attached to a kite and flown across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, on May 15, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Palestinian protesters riot along the security fence east of Gaza City as smoke billows from fields across the fence caused by an incendiary device attached to a kite and flown across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, on May 15, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The committee responsible for organizing weekly protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip announced on Thursday that demonstrations would take place less frequently in 2020.

The High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, said in a statement that protests would occur on “a monthly basis as well as whenever we need masses to gather and during prominent national occasions,” starting on March 30, 2020. 

Protests slated to take place this Friday will be the last until March 30, 2020, Talal Abu Zarifa, a member of the body, told AFP.

“We, in the High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, are making this decision and embodying national responsibility,” the Commission’s statement said. “Through this [decision], we are affirming the Commission’s bold and responsible leadership role.”

Yusri Darwish, a member of the High Commission, read the statement to reporters in Gaza City.

Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests along the frontier on most Fridays since March 30, 2018, demanding Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave and calling for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

The protests have frequently included violence, including the hurling of explosives, rocks and firebombs at IDF soldiers, as well as attempts to storm and sabotage the border fence. Israeli troops have often responded with live fire, rubber-coated bullets and tear gas. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed at the demonstrations and thousands have been injured.

Palestinian protesters wave national flags during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019 (ANAS BABA / AFP)

Israeli officials maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip. They also say that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character.

The announcement on Thursday comes after Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh visited Egypt in early December, where he held talks with the Egyptian General Intelligence Services.

For over a year now Egypt has been a key player in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.

The statement on Thursday also comes after an unnamed source in the High Commission told the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper in mid-November that the body was holding a discussion about “rolling back the marches to once a month or during national occasions.”

Talal Okal, a Gaza-based analyst, said that the High Commission decided to reduce the frequency of the protests in the coming year because the understandings between Israel and Hamas were making progress.

“The understandings are moving forward. As long as that is the case and greater stability is being achieved, Hamas and other factions do not see a great need for the marches,” he said in a phone call.

“But they do not want to stop them entirely because they do not trust Israel will consistently implement the understandings. So by not canceling them altogether, they still have a tool that they can use to step up pressure on Israel as they see fit,” he added.

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