Organizers of Gaza marches said discussing reducing their frequency

High Commission for the March of Return is considering limiting rallies to ‘once a month or during national occasions,’ source tells pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper

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

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The committee responsible for organizing weekly protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip is discussing whether to reduce the frequency of the demonstrations, a Lebanese newspaper reported on Friday, citing a source in the body.

The report in the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar comes after the High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, canceled both last week’s and this Friday’s protests in the border area.

There is a discussion about “rolling back the marches to once a month or during national occasions,” the source in the High Commission told al-Akhbar, noting a decision on the matter had not been made yet.

The source added that the Palestinian factions in Gaza reached a consensus to cancel this Friday’s protest “in light of information that indicates the occupation will aim to break the conditions of the Al-Quds Brigades regarding targeting demonstrators,” adding that it would do so “to provoke, embarrass and push Islamic Jihad to respond and enter a new confrontation, which [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will use as a lifeline.”

Palestinian demonstrators run away from the fence during protests along the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel and the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, engaged in a 48-hour flareup last week after the IDF killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in the terror group. During the escalation in tensions, the Al-Quds Brigades fired some 450 rockets and mortars at the Jewish state, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza.

The Hamas terror group’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, unlike previous rounds of fighting, stayed on the sidelines.

Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhala told the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV station last Wednesday that one of the terror group’s conditions for a ceasefire was Israeli security forces halting the use of fire against protesters in the border region. Netanyahu, however, asserted on Sunday that the Israel did not make any promises in exchange for the ceasefire. He is facing an uncertain political future after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged him on Thursday in three separate corruption cases.

The source in the High Commission also said that terror groups in Gaza want to temporarily “postpone the marches to resolve the negative impressions that Israeli propaganda created during the latest escalation, in which [Israel] attempted to cause a dispute between Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attend the funeral of a fellow fighter in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

During the fighting last week, the IDF said it heavily focused its strikes on Islamic Jihad fighters and infrastructure. It almost entirely avoided hitting any Hamas targets.

Over the past week, Israeli media has also reported that tensions between Islamic Jihad and Hamas were high because of the latter’s decision to not participate in the latest escalation.

Palestinian news outlets reported last Friday that young members of Abu al-Ata’s family prevented top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar from visiting a tent for those mourning the death of the senior Al-Quds Brigades commander.

Islamic Jihad official Khaled al-Batsh later apologized to Zahar for the incident.

The source also stated that authorities in Gaza want “to check the border areas” to see if any unexploded ordances or other objects from last week’s escalation were there.

Since late March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests along the frontier on most Fridays, 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.

A Palestinian rioter uses a slingshot to hurl a rock at Israeli troops during Nakba Day protests east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

The protests have included many violent acts 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 and tear gas. At least 200 Palestinians have been killed at the demonstrations and thousands of others have been injured.

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.

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