Weekly Gaza border protests called off due to Muslim holiday

Palestinians won’t hold demonstrations during Eid al-Adha, organizers say; senior Hamas official tells protesters to avoid swastikas, after Nazi symbols seen at recent rally

Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at Israeli security forces during protests along the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Palestinian demonstrators throw stones at Israeli security forces during protests along the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2019. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Organizers of the weekly protests at the Gaza border have canceled Friday’s demonstrations due to the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, a Hamas-affiliated newspaper reported Monday.

“The National Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege decided that events this week will be limited to performing Eid al-Adha prayers in the Malaka camp east of Gaza City and the Return camp east of Khan Younis,” Al-Resalah reported on Monday.

It said the committee decided not to hold the weekly rallies “to ease the situation for citizens and allow them the opportunity to prepare for the blessed holiday,” which begins on Sunday.

The announcement comes days after a flareup of violence broke several weeks of relative calm along the Israel-Gaza border.

On Thursday, the IDF said troops shot and killed an armed Palestinian man who had crossed the Gaza perimeter fence near Khan Younis and fired on soldiers, wounding three servicemen.

Palestinians identified the slain gunman as Hani Abu Salah, a member of the armed wing of Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza. There was no official statement from Hamas, but an IDF spokesman told reporters that Israel believes Abu Salah acted alone.

In response, the IDF said it “targeted a Hamas military post” in Gaza.

A relative of Hani Abu Salah, a Hamas operative killed in a firefight with Israeli soldiers after he entered Israel from the border fence, shows his picture on a mobile phone during his funeral in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on August 1, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

On Friday, some 6,000 Gazans took part in the weekly protests at the border fence. According to Hebrew-language media reports, some demonstrators hurled rocks and explosive devices toward IDF troops stationed on the border. There were no reports of Israeli injuries.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 51 Palestinians were injured, 24 as a result of IDF fire.

The IDF said one of the flags waved by protesters at the border on Friday was attached to a swastika, condemning the protesters for displaying the “symbol of murder and hatred.”

After the picture circulated on social media, a senior Hamas official issued a statement in English on Monday urging protesters to avoid using the Nazi symbol in the future.

“Raising the Nazi flag next to the flag of Palestine at the Gaza eastern borders is condemned and rejected. We should block such an act, even if it is done by one person and does not represent the common sense of the Palestinian people,” Dr. Basem Naim, head of the Council on International Relations, said in a statement.

He said the use of the Nazi symbol at the protest last Friday was being “exploited by the Israeli occupation to distort our struggle for freedom and independence.”

His statement was not released on the official website in Arabic.

The use of the swastika was also condemned by PLO official Saeb Erekat, who called it “a despicable act that should be condemned with the strongest possible terms by all human beings.”

A banner with a swastika is seen during weekly border protests in the Gaza Strip, August 2, 2019 (IDF)

The spring of 2019 saw a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and airborne arson attacks, but the violence waned in recent weeks due to a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

Under the fragile ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials following a severe flareup in May, Israel is meant to ease aspects of its blockade on the coastal enclave in exchange for relative calm. Israel maintains that the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used in attacks against it.

Last week, Israel wrapped up a four-day drill meant to prepare for the possibility of war with fighters based in the Palestinian enclave.

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