'Don't Give Israeli Snipers Opportunity to Shoot': Gaza Organizers Try to Quell Tensions Ahead of Mass Anniversary Protest

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to attend the protest to mark one year since the weekend border demonstration began

File photo: A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl objects during clashes with Israeli forces across the fence following a demonstration east of Gaza City, March 22, 2019.
Said Khatib/AFP

The committee behind Palestinians' weekly protests along the Israel-Gaza border has called on demonstrators to "not give Israeli snipers an opportunity to hit them," in an apparent attempt to cool tensions ahead of the weekend, which will mark a year since the demonstrations began. 

Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Haaretz

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to take part in protests across the Gaza Strip on Saturday, according to the committee, which urged Gazans to focus on arts and heritage events.

The level of violence won't be determined by the number of protesters but rather by other factors such as demonstrators' proximity to the fence, how active the nighttime units will be and whether firebombs will be launched across the border. 

>> Read more: Hamas fired Gaza rocket at central Israel accidentally, defense officials believe | Amos Harel ■ As Egypt brokers talks, Israel braces for mass Gaza protests ■ Despite ‘quality targets,’ Israeli army strikes in Gaza have little real effect

Meanwhile, an Egyptian delegation of security officials returned to Gaza on Thursday following a short visit to Israel that lasted only several hours.

File photo: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tours the site of a building destroyed by Israeli strike, in Gaza City, March 27, 2019.
Adel Hana/AP

It first arrived in the Strip on Wednesday evening and left for Israel following meeting with Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar and other senior Hamas officials.

Hamas-affiliated media reported that the Egyptian delegation presented the parties with a package deal according to which calm will be restored between the two parties.

On their part, Hamas would have to commit to stop nighttime protests along the border as well as to put a halt to the launching of firebombs. Hamas would also have to guarantee that weekend demonstrations will be non-violent, with no protesters coming near the border fence or attempting to cross over into Israel.

In return, Israel would let diesel fuel into Gaza to ensure its power station operates regularly, expand areas allowed for fishing, increase the quota of permits for merchants and advance humanitarian projects.

File photo: Israeli army artillery is seen deployed near the border with Gaza, in southern Israel, March 27, 2019.
Tsafrir Abayov/AP

'No one wants to send young people to die on the fence'

A Hamas source informed with the details of the Egyptian deal confirmed it in a conversation with Haaretz, but stressed it is only a draft. He said Israel's position on the proposed measures and its willingness to implement them are yet unclear.

Talal Abu Zarifa, a member of the March of Return organizing committee, told Haaretz that curbing this week's protest is a message to both the Egyptian delegation and Israel. However, he said the marches' nature would also be determined by Israel's measures. "No one wants to send young people to die on the fence, but it is very much up to Israel. If there would be any positive progress, the marches would really be festive, at a distance of hundreds of meters from the fence. But if we encounter refusals or promises in vain, no one would be able to stop the masses from getting to the fence."

A senior political Hamas official also said any relief to the blockade on the Strip would cool the demonstrations down. "Our message is clear," he told Haaretz, "if there's a relief in the blockade, the level of obstinacy will be decreased."

The Israel Defense Forces said on Thursday that Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has suspended all soldiers' vacations in the Southern Command and the forces on the Gaza Strip border have completed their deployment ahead of the demonstrations expected over the weekend. The Israeli military also said that extra forces have been deployed in the area.

Earlier on Thursday, two incendiary balloons were launched from Gaza toward border communities in southern Israel. One of them started a fire that was quickly put out by emergency services. The Israeli army attacked Palestinians in Gaza who are said to have launched firebombs at Israel in response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will only launch a major campaign in the Gaza Strip after exhausting all other options. "We're ramping up security measures around the Gaza Strip. In recent days I've ordered to bolster forces and prepare for a major campaign," he added.

On Monday, the IDF attacked targets in Gaza after a rocket fired from the Strip hit a house in Mishmeret, situated in Israel's Hasharon region, north of Tel Aviv. Seven people, six of them related, were wounded. On Wednesday, Hamas fired another rocket at the southern city of Ashkelon, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.