Organizers of Gaza border protests cancel Land Day event over virus concerns
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Organizers of Gaza border protests cancel Land Day event over virus concerns

Day after rocket fired from enclave, committee says Palestinian flags should be raised and Israeli ones burned; calls for people to stay home, follow directives to contain outbreak

Palestinian protestors run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration commemorating Land Day, near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 30, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian protestors run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration commemorating Land Day, near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 30, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The committee responsible for organizing protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Saturday announced the cancellation of a Land Day event, set to take place on March 30, over concerns it could facilitate the spread of the coronavirus in the enclave.

“We call for everyone to adhere to all health and preventative measures announced by the Health Ministry and all official bodies to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” the committee said in a statement, according to Channel 13 news.

Instead, the organizers called for people to raise Palestinian flags and burn Israeli ones, as well as observing a moment of silence and staying in their homes.

Land Day marks a 1976 decision by the Israeli government to seize thousands of dunams of Arab-owned land in the Galilee region of northern Israel.

In 2018 on Land Day — March 30 — Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched the “Great March of Return,” a series of weekly protests and riots along the security fence. Israel maintained that Hamas appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent military activities.

In this March 15, 2020 file photo, a Palestinian health worker sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus in a gymnasium in Gaza City. (AP /Khalil Hamra)

The Gaza Strip on Sunday reported its first two cases of the virus — two residents who had returned from Pakistan. The number climbed to nine on Wednesday, but has held since, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The seven newly infected individuals were all “security men” and said they were among the roughly 30 who had come into contact with the Pakistan returnees.

A total of 1,568 people in Gaza were being held in more than 20 quarantine facilities, while 1,205 were isolated in their homes, Gaza’s health ministry said last week.

Health experts have warned that an outbreak in Gaza would prove particularly deadly given the severe crowdedness and weakness of the healthcare system.

Palestinian health workers wearing protective face masks are pictured in the courtyard of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) school at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on March 18, 2020, as preparations are underway to receive, examine and isolate victims of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

For the past three weeks, a period of calm had been holding in Gaza as authorities on both sides of the border have focused on combating the coronavirus outbreak.

However on Friday evening, terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket toward Israel, triggering warning sirens in the southern town of Sderot and the surrounding area. A regional spokesman said the projectile apparently fell in an open area and there were no injuries or damage. The IDF retaliated later Friday night.

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