Hamas said considering resuming mass protests along Gaza border

As living conditions worsen in impoverished coastal strip, terror group is looking for ways to put pressure on Israel and international donors

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian protesters run to cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli troops, along the frontier with Israel, east of Gaza City, Monday, August 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinian protesters run to cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli troops, along the frontier with Israel, east of Gaza City, Monday, August 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

After hundreds of Gazans staged a violent protest near the border with Israel on August 21, with some hurling explosive devices or attempting to break through the security barrier, Hamas is now reportedly considering a resumption of regular protest marches along the border and other activities against Israel,

On Wednesday, photographers were invited to the area along the security fence to document ongoing works to clear the ground, Haaretz reported. The publicity stunt was reportedly intended to signal to Israel that Hamas has the capabilities to resume activities along the border, such as organizing violent rallies and launching incendiary balloons.

However, the group has not reached a final decision on whether to go ahead, according to Haaretz. In preparation for possible protest actions, tents will be set up near the border in the next few days, sources said.

Weekly protests along the frontier began at the end of March 2018 and continued almost every Friday until the end of 2019, with the demand that 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 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, and in some cases live fire toward Israeli soldiers. Troops often responded with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas as well as live fire. More than 200 Palestinians were killed at the demonstrations and thousands were injured.

In addition, Palestinians regularly flew helium balloons into Israel carrying explosives and incendiary devices, sparking fires that destroyed large swaths of foliage.

While Hamas is said to now consider resuming the ”Marches of Return,” as they came to be known, no official statement has yet been published by the terror group on its future plans.

Palestinian flags fly near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel near an observation point manned by Hamas fighters east of Jabalia on August 30, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

According to Haaretz, the terror group ruling over the coastal enclave is not interested in a major military confrontation with Israel at this point, but it wants to convey a message to Israel, the UN and Qatar, and to pressure them to improve humanitarian conditions. Hamas also wants to emphasize that the situation in Gaza cannot be detached from what is happening in the West Bank, where terror attacks have become increasingly frequent.

On Thursday, Gazan farmers staged a protest along the border in the central Gaza Strip, lamenting restrictions on the export of agricultural produce, on the movement and training of agricultural experts, and on the limitation of arable lands along the border, where Israel imposes a buffer zone that sometimes reaches half a kilometer, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture said to Hamas-affiliated Shehab News.

Living conditions in the impoverished enclave have worsened in recent months, due in part to a delay in Qatar’s aid disbursement intended to pay salaries for 50,000 public sector workers. The Gazan economy is highly dependent on foreign aid, and Qatar has been donating $30 million per month in public sector payroll grants, aid for low-income families, and fuel for electricity.

The deepening humanitarian crisis, with wages currently reduced or suspended for public sector employees, constant power outages and discontent with the Hamas leadership, led thousands to take to the streets in late July, in a rare expression of popular discontent that was rapidly suppressed by the ruling terror group.

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