Israeli diplomats gird for Gaza Land Day clashes, warn Hamas responsible
Foreign Ministry and UN ambassador urge international community not to be fooled regarding March of Return’s violent nature
Israel’s Foreign Ministry reached out the international community on Twitter Thursday in anticipation of violent clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border in the coming days.
“While the campaign is being presented to the world at large as a peaceful enterprise, there is no doubt that this latest Hamas ploy is aimed at igniting a violent confrontation with Israel,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement began.
It highlighted a sermon given by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh earlier this month, in which he said that there would be no way to control the tens of thousands of Palestinians who would be marching toward the border to protest the “siege” of the coastal enclave.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade, which they say is necessary to prevent Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, from smuggling in weapons and material used for digging tunnels into the Jewish state. In the past decade, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, which have severely harmed Gaza’s infrastructure, and reconstruction efforts have been slow.
The “March of Return” is set to begin on Friday with “Land Day,” which marks the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and the ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover festival.
The Foreign Ministry asserted that Israel has a right to “to prevent illegal infiltration into its sovereign territory.”
“Responsibility for any clashes that may arise will thus lie solely with Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations who have manufactured this entire campaign,” the statement said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoing the Foreign Ministry’s comments regarding the March of Return.
“While the Palestinians are attempting to present these demonstrations as acts of ‘peaceful resistance,’ Hamas has invested approximately 10 million USD into this confrontation campaign and will pay Gazans to participate,” Danon wrote.
He claimed that while the Palestinian Authority has financially withdrawn from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Israel has continued to provide the coastal enclave with electricity and water.
“Israel condemns the Palestinian leadership’s dangerous attempt to inflame tensions and instigate violence and expects all United Nations personnel to refrain from planning, supporting, or participating in these activities,” the ambassador concluded.
On Thursday, Israeli troops opened fire at a number of Palestinian rioters who tried to damage the security fence around the Gaza Strip.
According to the army, approximately 200 Palestinians took part in violent protests at four main locations along the security fence, lighting fires, and throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers on the other side.
The riots came as Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the volatile border with Israel ahead of a six-week protest camp under the gaze of wary Israeli soldiers.
Organizers said it would be peaceful but Israeli officials are wary of a fresh flareup along the enclave’s border.
In a Wednesday interview with the Israel Hayom daily, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned that “if the Palestinians think they will organize a march and it will pass the [border] fence and they will march into our territory, they’re wrong.”
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.
Agencies contributed to this report.