Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, took Hamas to task early Friday over its “hostile march” along the Gaza Strip’s border with the Jewish state.
“Hamas is encouraging a hostile march on the Israel-Gaza border,” he tweeted. “Hamas should focus on desperately needed improvements to the lives of Palestinians in Gaza instead of inciting violence against Israel that only increases hardship & undermines chances for peace.”
Earlier, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that, while Israel “has the right to defend itself,” Gazans also “have a right” to demonstrate. In a daily press briefing, she expressed hope that “the measures that [Israel chooses] to take, and to be implemented, will minimize the impact on the ability of people to cross in and out of Gaza.”
Israel has threatened to take severe measures against Palestinians who try to cause damage to the security fence along the border or force their way into Israel as part of massive “March of Return” demonstrations that are scheduled to start on Friday.
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.
Hamas on Thursday evening called on Palestinians to “remain peaceful to achieve the objective of this event.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
A Palestinian man was killed early Friday by Israeli tank fire near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said. Reports in Gaza identified the man as Omar Wahid Sammour, 27, a farmer. They said a second man was injured. An Israeli TV report said he was suspected of trying to plant an explosive device at the fence.
The IDF said that, in all, it had opened fire on four suspects near the security fence overnight, both in the north and south of the Gaza Strip. It said that during the incident outside Khan Yunis, “two suspects approached the perimeter fence… and engaged in suspicious behavior on the ground alongside it. In response, an IDF unit fired at them with a tank.”