On the eve of mass protests planned along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, Hamas on Thursday called on Palestinians to “remain peaceful to achieve the objective of this event.”
Hamas is one of several Palestinian groups behind the “March of Return” demonstrations that are scheduled to start on Friday. The committee in charge of coordinating the protests also called on Palestinians to remain “peaceful.”
It said that after months of preparations and work, “we are hours away from the peaceful and legitimate thunderous march near our lands and homes and properties which we were expelled from.”
The committee also called on Palestinian families to organize trips to the area adjacent to the security fence “to enjoy the beauty of the nature in our occupied lands and homeland.”
Hamas leaders said in the past few days that the protests, which are planned near the border with Israel, would be “peaceful” and “non-violent.” However, they warned that Palestinians will not sit idly by if Israel uses force to disperse the protesters.
A statement issued by Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, on Thursday called on Palestinians “to effectively take part in the Great March of Return and remain peaceful to achieve the objective of this event.”
The statement came in response to Israeli threats to take severe measures against Palestinians who try to cause damage to the security fence along the border or force their way into Israel. On Thursday evening, Israeli troops opened fire at a number of Palestinian rioters who tried to damage the security fence around the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the army said. According to Palestinian sources, five people were wounded.
On Wednesday, Major-General Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories, warned Hamas and other Palestinian groups against using the protests to initiate violent confrontations with the IDF. Denouncing the planned protests as “demonstrations of anarchy,” Mordechai said that the Israeli authorities had warned owners of bus companies in the Gaza Strip not to collaborate with Hamas by transporting Palestinians to the site of the protests.
In its statement, Hamas praised the “resistance of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, occupied Palestine, and diaspora.” It also expressed appreciation for their “sacrifices for the sake of adhering to their rights, maintaining their identity, sticking to their land, resisting all attempts to wipe them out, and rejecting all forms of normalization [with Israel].”
Hamas said that Land Day, which Palestinians and Arab Israelis mark every March 30, “is a source of inspiration that reminds the Palestinians of the right of return, which has never been forgotten in spite of sufferings and tragedies inflicted on the Palestinians. Land Day, together with all Palestinians days, will remain an occasion of sacrifice for the sake of restoring Palestine.”
Khalil al Haya, a senior Hamas official, said that the Palestinians were not afraid of Israel’s threats to stop the demonstrators from approaching the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The Palestinians are determined to return to their lands and homeland, Haya said during a tour of tents set up by the protesters near the border with Israel. The Palestinians refer to the tents as the “Tents of Return.”
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“Our people will not be intimidated by the Israeli threats,” he said. “We have waited for too long to return to the lands from which our grandparents were expelled 70 years ago.”
The Hamas official said he expected thousands of Palestinians to march near the border with Israel on Friday.
Atef Abu Seif, a spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip, also called on Palestinians to “preserve the peaceful character” of the mass protests. He, too, said that Palestinians were not deterred by Israel’s threats. Israel, he added, understands the danger of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians marching toward its borders.
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.