Israel on Friday geared up for another showdown on the Gaza border, with the IDF deploying snipers and tanks for the third consecutive week ahead of a mass Palestinian protest.
Friday’s protest is the third of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
Last Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest. The previous week there were an estimated 30,000 protesters.
Thirty-two Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel, and attempt to carry out attacks. Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests and says it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs. It has also identified a dozen of the casualties as members of various terrorist groups. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
Israel’s defense minister has warned that protesters approaching the border fence endanger their lives, drawing condemnation from rights groups that said such seemingly broad open-fire rules are unlawful.
The idea of mass protests was initially floated by social media activists, but was later co-opted by Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, with the backing of smaller terror groups.
The White House has called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel, on the eve of fresh demonstrations along the border.
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
Read More: Times of Israel