Hamas says indirect Gaza truce talks with Israel ‘advanced’

Israeli soldiers walk around on the Israeli side near the border line between Israel and the Gaza Strip July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.N.- and Egyptian-mediated talks on a deal to tamp down tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip are in “advanced stages”, a senior member of the Palestinian enclave’s dominant Islamist Hamas group said on Wednesday.

The remarks were echoed by a top Israeli lawmaker, suggesting a possible breakthrough after four months of confrontations and clashes that stirred mutual threats of war.

Still the border remained tense on Wednesday. The Israel army said militant gunfire struck an engineering vehicle along the frontier, and that in response a tank fired at a Hamas post. No injuries were reported.

Shortly after, air raid sirens went off in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, sending residents running for shelter. At least two rockets fell in the area and one person was hurt, according to emergency services.

Palestinian officials then said Israel carried out an air strike in northern Gaza, causing no injuries.

Gazans launched weekly, sometimes violent, border protests against Israel on March 30, their anger exacerbated by a grinding Israeli-Egyptian blockade and funding cuts by Hamas’s rival, the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Israeli army has killed at least 158 Palestinians, while a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier. Israel has lost tracts of forest and farmland to fires set by incendiary kites and helium balloons flown over the frontier. There have also been several, mostly bloodless shelling exchanges.

Neither Hamas nor Israel, which last fought a war in 2014, appears keen on another full-blown conflict. But public demands by either side for a detainee release by the other appear to have been a stumbling block in securing a long-term truce.

“We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them,” Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza, told Al Jazeera television.

“What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy (Israel).”

“NEW DAY”

Israel has played down prospects for a comprehensive ceasefire, speaking in terms of a more limited quid-pro-quo.

In return for calm in Gaza, Israeli officials said on Sunday they would reopen a commercial border terminal that had been shuttered in response to the fire damage, and expand a Palestinian fishing zone.

Netanyahu called off a trip to Colombia this week to attend to the Gaza truce talks, and was due to convene his decision-making security cabinet on Thursday to discuss the negotiations.

Avi Dichter, the committee of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, struck a cautiously upbeat note on Wednesday. “I very much hope that we are on the brink of a new day on the matter of Gaza,” he told reporters.

Neither the United Nations nor Egypt have publicly detailed their proposals for Gaza, beyond saying they should bring extensive economic relief for its 2 million Palestinians, many of them plagued by unemployment and failing public utilities.

Hayya said foreign donors were collecting “hundreds of millions of dollars” for electricity, water, health and job-creation projects in Gaza, but that these “require stability”.

Israel wants to recover the bodies of two soldiers killed in the Gaza war, and wants freedom for two of its civilians who wandered into the enclave, in exchange for any far-ranging truce deal with Hamas.

For its part, Hamas demands that Israel free Palestinian security prisoners – a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners balk at.

“We want to free our brave prisoners and we have no objection to beginning now,” Hayya said. “Let it be a prisoner swap deal, (Palestinian) prisoners in return for Zionist soldiers.”

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Alison Williams)

Israel asks Cyprus to consider shipping route for Gaza: Cypriot official

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City early morning September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

ATHENS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has asked Cyprus to examine the possibility of establishing a shipping point on the island for sending goods to the Gaza Strip, a Cypriot government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Goods shipped by sea usually come to an Israeli port and are transferred to Gaza over land. Israel enforces a maritime blockade on Gaza, which it says is meant to prevent weapons from reaching the territory ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Both Egypt and Israel restrict movement across Gaza’s land borders as well. The United Nations has called for a freer flow of goods into Gaza, where most Palestinians live in poverty.

The idea of setting up a facility in Cyprus has been floated for years, and Israel recently made a request to explore the issue, according to Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou.

“It is an old issue which is now being re-discussed,” Prodromou told Reuters.

“There will be contacts between the government and all interested parties in the region and, possibly, a decision will be taken. At the moment no decision has been taken. The request is being examined, it hasn’t been rejected,” he said.

Prodromou did not say when the request was made, but Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Nicosia last week.

An Israeli news report late on Monday said Lieberman had reached an understanding with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to pursue the port plan.

Lieberman’s office, in response to the report, said that Israel is working internationally in a number of ways to try to “change the reality in Gaza”, but that any move to improve the humanitarian situation depends on the return of Israelis who are missing or being held prisoner in Gaza.

“Beyond that we cannot relate to the details,” it said in a statement.

Israel has demanded the return of two Israeli civilians who it says crossed into Gaza and are being held by Hamas, as well as the bodies of two soldiers who were killed in a 2014 war. Hamas says it is holding them but does not give any details.

Hamas officials declined to comment on the port plan.

At least one Israeli cabinet minister, Yuval Steinitz, has been promoting the Cyprus port idea as a way to create a conduit into Gaza that does not go through Israel. Another Israeli cabinet minister has raised the idea of building an artificial island off the Gaza coast, a much larger project.

“I think that we can combine our security on one hand and open Gaza to the outer world on the other hand,” Steinitz said of the port idea in an interview in Washington.

A port would be a faster solution than an artificial island. Opening a port in Cyprus could take only a few months after getting international approval and could be shut down quickly if somebody abuses it, Steinitz said. Building an artificial island could take 10 years, he said.

Security checks at the piers, however, would have to be handled by Israel together with an international group such as the United Nations, Steinitz said earlier this month.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas, Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Nidal al-Mughrabi; Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Grant McCool)

Militants’ rockets, Israeli air strikes heat up Gaza border

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ori Lewis

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Several dozen rockets and mortar bombs launched at Israel by Palestinians in Gaza, and Israeli air strikes on the enclave’s dominant Hamas militant group, raised the heat along the border on Wednesday.

Despite the biggest flare-up in weeks in the area, no deaths were reported. But pledges by Israel and Palestinian militants to continue to respond to any attacks against them held the potential for broader conflict.

“I don’t intend to detail the actions we plan on Gaza,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to graduating military officers that was aired on national radio.

He added: “Force will be stepped up as much as required. We are prepared for every eventuality, and our enemies would do well to understand that – right now.”

The Israeli military said Hamas fired about 45 rockets and mortar bombs at southern Israel overnight, and that Israeli aircraft attacked 25 targets belonging to the group in response.

A graphic distributed by the military showed 21 impact sites in Israeli territory and it released a photo of one crater just outside a school. It said seven projectiles were intercepted, at least three fell short inside Gaza and that it was not immediately able to account for the others.

A Hamas spokesman said that, as part of a policy of “bombardment for bombardment”, the barrages were retaliation for an earlier Israeli air strike.

The Israeli military said that in that raid, it attacked three targets in a Hamas compound, calling it a response to the repeated launching of incendiary kites that have burned large tracts of parched farm fields and woodland in southern Israel.

Two Hamas security men were lightly hurt in one of the air raids, residents said. Sirens sounded throughout the night in parts of Israel’s south, sending residents into fortified rooms that are mandatory in homes.

No Israeli casualties were reported.

Israel has accused Hamas of stoking violence in an attempt to deflect domestic opinion from Gaza’s energy shortages and faltering economy.

Israel maintains a naval blockade of Gaza and tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods at its land borders. Egypt has also kept its own Gaza frontier largely closed. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures, which have deepened economic hardship.

At least 127 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30.

Protesters are demanding a right of return to what is now Israel for those who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the war around its creation in 1948, and for millions of their descendants. Israel rules that out as demographic suicide.

Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the weekly Friday protests have drawn international condemnation. But support has come from its main ally, the United States, which like Israel, has cast blame on Hamas.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israeli gunfire, tear gas injure 100 as Gaza protest resumes

Tear gas canisters are fired by Israeli troops at Palestinian demonstrators during a protest marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Israeli troops fired tear gas and live bullets at Palestinians taking part in weekly protests at the Gaza Strip border with Israel on Friday, injuring at least 100 people, medics said.

The army said it was taking action to disperse thousands of Palestinians, some of whom threw rocks the troops and burned tyres, and prevent any breach of the fortified frontier fence.

Israeli forces have killed at last 120 Palestinians in protests along the border since a campaign was launched on March 30 to demand the right to return to ancestral lands that are now part of Israel, hospital officials say. Israel says the dead included Hamas and other militants who used civilians as cover for infiltration attempts.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gazans send fire-starting kites into Israel; minister threatens lethal response

By Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Palestinians are sending kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to farmland and forests, in a new tactic that an Israeli minister said should be countered with “targeted assassinations”.

Palestinians prepare to fly a kite loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip, June 4, 2018. Picture taken June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

At least 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.

“It began spontaneously. We never thought we would achieve such good results,” said Shadi, one of five Palestinian teenagers preparing kites with fabric dipped in diesel and lubricant oil in a Gaza field.

“The idea is simple: use the simplest tools to cause damage and losses on the Occupation (Israel),” said Shadi, 19, wearing a “V for Vendetta” mask favored by protesters in many parts of the world and who, like the others, declined to give his last name.

No one has been hurt by the fires, but some 2,250 acres (910 hectares) of fields and nature reserves, already parched after a dry winter, have been burned by flames stoked by Mediterranean winds, causing $2.5 million in damage, Israel’s government said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Israeli snipers should shoot the kite flyers.

“I expect the IDF (Israeli army) to handle these kite-flyers exactly as they would any terrorist, and the IDF’s targeted assassinations must also apply to these kite-flyers.”

Palestinians prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip, June 4, 2018. Picture taken June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Israel has drafted in civilian drone enthusiasts as army reservists, instructing them to fly their remote-controlled aircraft into the kites, an Israeli general said.

“If their drone ends up getting lost in the process, we compensate them,” he told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The army has also fitted larger surveillance drones with weighted fishing lines or blades that can snag or slash kite strings in mid-air, the general said.

But he acknowledged the limitations of such measures, saying: “We’ll probably end up having to shoot kite-flyers too.”

Daniel Ben-David, a forestry official for Israel’s quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund, said some kites had been decorated with swastikas or the Palestinian national colors, but more recently were made of transparent nylon sheeting.

Some had leaflets attached. “Prepare for a scorching summer,” read one, in Hebrew.

In Gaza, kite-maker Shadi said his group had never used swastikas on their kites. He confirmed that transparent plastic was the best material as it made the kites almost invisible against the sky.

Even if the protests wind down, he and others will continue to send the kites – some of which carry the photos of Palestinians killed in the demonstrations – he said.

“Each kite costs us 10 shekels ($2.80). We pay it for it out of our own pockets,” Shadi said.

A senior White House envoy, Jason Greenblatt, described the kites as “not harmless playthings or metaphors for freedom (but) propaganda and indiscriminate weapons”.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)

Israel-Gaza border falls quiet after Egypt brokers ceasefire

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Gaza May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Wednesday under an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire after the most intense flareup of hostilities between Palestinian militants and Israel since a 2014 war.

Militants from Hamas, the dominant group in Gaza, and Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets and mortar bombs at Israel throughout Tuesday and overnight, to which Israel responded with tank and air strikes on more than 50 targets in the enclave.

There were no reports of further fighting after Palestinian and Israeli attacks in the early hours of Wednesday, and both sides appeared to back away from a slide toward a new war after weeks of violence along the border.

Schools opened as usual in Israeli towns near the frontier where rocket warning sirens sounded frequently on Tuesday. Gaza’s streets were filled with morning shoppers and children went to class.

A Palestinian official said Egyptian mediation led to a ceasefire, but the terms of the “understanding” did not go beyond “a restoration of calm by both sides”.

“After the resistance succeeded in confronting the (Israeli) aggression … there was a lot of mediation in the past hours,” Hamas’ deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, said, in a nod to Egypt’s efforts.

“An agreement was reached to return to the (2014) ceasefire understandings in the Gaza Strip. The resistance factions will abide by it as long as the Occupation does the same,” Hayya said in a statement, using militant groups’ term for Israel.

Israel stopped short of officially confirming any formal truce with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which it regards along with the West as terrorist organizations.

But it launched no new attacks on Wednesday and signaled it was prepared to halt the hostilities if the cross-border barrages ended. Israeli officials declared that militants had been dealt a strong blow.

The Israeli army said three soldiers were wounded by projectiles launched from Gaza. There were no reports of Palestinian casualties in the Israeli strikes.

“Firing has stopped since the morning and Israel conveyed a message that if it resumes, the attacks on Hamas and its associates will be even stronger,” a senior Israeli official added.

“It all depends on Hamas,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said on Israel Radio.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab, acknowledging a ceasefire was in effect, said its success would depend on “whether Israel will refrain from any military escalation against Gaza”.

Both Hamas and pro-Iran Islamic Jihad said they fired their salvoes in response to Israel’s killing of at least 116 Palestinians since March 30 in Gaza border protests.

Islamic Jihad had vowed revenge in response to Israeli tank shelling that killed of three of its men on Sunday after explosives were planted along the Gaza frontier fence.

AIR STRIKES

Violence along the Gaza frontier soared in recent weeks. At least 116 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire at mass demonstrations along the border, drawing international condemnation for Israel over its use of lethal force.

The demonstrations and surge in violence come amid growing frustration among Palestinians over the prospects for an independent state. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have expanded.

By late Tuesday, Israeli aircraft had hit 55 facilities belonging to militant groups in Gaza, including a cross-border tunnel under construction, in response to the Palestinian barrages, the military said.

Such potential targets are usually abandoned by militants when violence with Israel flares.

Israel said some 70 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at its southland. Some were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor system and others landed in empty lots and farmland. One exploded in the yard of a kindergarten before it was due to open.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Muslims must stop other countries opening Jerusalem embassies: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Secretary General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen are seen during a meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers Council in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. Hudaverdi Arif Yaman/Pool via Reuters

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Parisa Hafezi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey called on Muslim countries on Friday to stop other nations from following the United States and moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, as it opened a meeting in Istanbul on Friday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after Israeli forces this week killed dozens of Palestinian protesters who were demonstrating in Gaza against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. move and the violence in Gaza, declaring three days of mourning. Erdogan has described the actions of the Israeli forces as a “genocide” and Israel as a “terrorist state”.

“We will emphasise the status of the Palestine issue for our community, and that we will not allow the status of the historic city to be changed,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an opening address. “We must prevent other countries following the U.S. example.”

The events in Gaza have also sparked a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel, with both countries expelling each other’s senior diplomats this week.

The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, particularly the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of support for Erdogan, running for re-election next month.

TRADE TIES

Despite the rhetoric, Israel was the 10th-biggest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4 billion of goods, according to IMF statistics.

“We have excellent economic ties with Turkey. And these relations are very important for both sides,” Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday when asked if Israel should break ties with Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy reversed decades of U.S. policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Guatemala this week became the second country to move its embassy to the holy city, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian television after arriving in Istanbul that “Israel’s recent crimes in Palestine and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem need serious coordination between Islamic countries and the international community”.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Friday said Israel had systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million people in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Israel says new Gaza tunnel foiled, lifts veil on detection lab

FILE PHOTO: Construction work can be seen on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israel March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Sunday it destroyed a guerrilla tunnel from the Gaza Strip and gave rare details on a classified military laboratory spearheading efforts to foil the cross-border digs.

Palestinian gunmen used tunnels to blindside Israeli forces during the 2014 Gaza war. Israel has since been developing detection technologies and laying down an underground frontier wall which, it says, will end the Gaza tunnel threat by 2019.

It is the fifth such detection in as many months and Israeli officials regard publicity around their tunnel hunts as a double-edged sword.

They hope it will discourage new digs but worry it could prompt militants to preempt the razing of any existing passages by using them for attacks.

The most recent discovery was of a passage running “kilometres” from within Gaza to just over the border, Israel’s military said on Sunday, accusing the enclave’s dominant Hamas Islamists of being behind the project. Hamas did not comment.

“We were able to detect, and we destroyed it, using similar means that we have used in the past,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

“There was no use of explosives, but rather, we filled the tunnel, which rendered it useless for a very long period of time.”

Conricus did not elaborate on the means of detection nor how the tunnel was filled. Such details are secret in Israel, which has received U.S. congressional funding for the project.

Later on Sunday, Israel went public with a military laboratory it set up in 2016 to pool anti-tunnel expertise.

The laboratory “uses innovative ground research, which includes scanning of cavities and their dynamics, (and) strives to develop new discovery and mapping techniques”, a military statement said.

A video release showed soldiers, with faces obscured, poring over maps and computer screens at an undisclosed location.

Israel offered no explanation for its publication about the laboratory, which followed a surge in Gaza border protests that organisers want to peak in mid-May – the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which Palestinians mourn as a catastrophe.

Israeli army snipers have killed 31 Palestinians during the demonstrations, drawing international censure. The military says it is taking necessary action against people suspected of trying to damage the border fence or provide cover for Hamas attacks.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has denied having any such plans.

The tunnel whose discovery was made public on Sunday crossed the border with Israel near the site of intensive Palestinian disturbances, Conricus said. “I wouldn’t think that it’s a coincidence,” he added, without elaborating.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said geophysicists from his ministry were involved in the anti-tunnel efforts, as well as researchers from the Technion, an Israeli university, and from state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Thousands of Palestinians protest at Gaza-Israel border, one dead

A girl hurls stones during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – A Palestinian was killed and more than 200 others wounded during clashes with Israeli troops as thousands gathered in protest along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, Gaza officials said.

Palestinians hurled stones and burning tyres near the frontier fence, where Israeli army sharpshooters are deployed. Some in the crowd threw firebombs and an explosive device and tried cross into Israel, according to the Israeli military.

Palestinian demonstrators take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland as smoke rises during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian demonstrators take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland as smoke rises during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian medical officials said Israeli troops opened fire on the demonstrators, killing one and wounding 220.

An Israeli military spokesman said troops were being confronted by rioters and responded “with riot dispersal means while also firing in accordance with the rules of engagement”.

Palestinians had arrived en masse at tented camps near the frontier as a protest dubbed “The Great March of Return” – evoking a longtime call for refugees to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel – moved into its third week.

Israeli troops have shot dead 31 Gaza Palestinians and wounded hundreds since the protests began, drawing international criticism of the lethal tactics used against them.

On Friday, groups of youths waved Palestinian flags and burnt hundreds of tyres and Israeli flags near the fenced-off border after Friday prayers. At one camp east of Gaza City, youths carried on their shoulders a coffin wrapped in an Israeli flag bearing the words “The End of Israel”.

Israel has declared a no-go zone close to the Gaza border fence.

No Israelis have been killed during the demonstrations, and human rights groups say the Israeli military has used live fire against demonstrators who pose no immediate threat to life.

Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border, and to stop any of the protesters getting across the fence.

The planned six-week protest has revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created 70 years ago.

The protest began on March 30, and is expected to culminate on May 15.

A Palestinian protester takes cover during clashes with Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian protester takes cover during clashes with Israeli troops near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

“CATASTROPHE” OF 1948

That is the day Palestinians will mark the 70th anniversary of the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced amid violence culminating in war between newly created Israel and its Arab neighbors in May 1948.

Successive Israeli governments have ruled out any right of return, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.

“Some people believe we are idiots to think the Israelis will allow us in, they may not, but we will not stop trying to return,” said a protester, 37-year-old civil servant Ahmed, as he stood on a hilltop overlooking the Israeli fence.

Like most of the 2 million Palestinians packed into the tiny, impoverished Gaza Strip, Ahmed is a descendant of refugees from Jaffa, a coastal town in Israel just south of Tel Aviv.

“No peace, no jobs, no unity and no future, so what difference would death make? If we are going to die, then let it not be in vain,” said Ahmed, who refused to give his full name, fearing Israeli reprisals.

The Israeli government accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza largely since Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005, of having instigated the protests and of using them as cover to launch attacks.

“Israel will continue to defend its borders and its citizens. Your country would do the same,” an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said on Twitter.

The Israeli military has displayed video footage in which the frontier fence is seen being cut and breached during the recent clashes, with, Israel says, explosives planted there to target its troops.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israeli forces wound 30 more Palestinians in Gaza-Israel border protests

A Palestinian demonstrator holds an axe during clashes with Israeli troops, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot and wounded 30 Palestinians during a large protest on the Gaza-Israel border on Friday in which demonstrators hurled stones and burning tyres near the frontier fence, Palestinian medics said.

Some in the Gaza crowd threw firebombs and an explosive device, according to the Israeli military.

Thousands of Palestinians arrived at tented camps near the frontier as a protest dubbed “The Great March of Return” – evoking a longtime call for refugees to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel – moved into its third week.

Israeli troops have shot dead 30 Gaza Palestinians and wounded hundreds since the protests began, drawing international criticism of the lethal tactics used against them.

An Israeli military spokesman said troops were being confronted by rioters and “responding with riot dispersal means while also firing in accordance with the rules of engagement”.

On Friday, groups of youths waved Palestinian flags and burnt hundreds of tyres and Israeli flags near the fenced-off border after Friday prayers. At one camp east of Gaza City, youths carried on their shoulders a coffin wrapped in an Israeli flag bearing the words “The End of Israel”.

Israel has declared a no-go zone close to the Gaza border fence, and deployed army sharpshooters along it.

No Israelis have been killed during the demonstrations, and human rights groups say the Israeli military has used live fire against demonstrators who pose no immediate threat to life.

Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border, and to stop any of the protesters getting across the fence.

The planned six-week protest has revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created 70 years ago.

The protest began on March 30, and is expected to culminate on May 15.

“CATASTROPHE” OF 1948

That is the day Palestinians will mark the 70th anniversary of the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced amid violence culminating in war between newly created Israel and its Arab neighbors in May 1948.

Successive Israeli governments have ruled out any right of return, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.

“Some people believe we are idiots to think the Israelis will allow us in, they may not, but we will not stop trying to return,” said a protester, 37-year-old civil servant Ahmed, as he stood on a hilltop overlooking the Israeli fence.

Like most of the 2 million Palestinians packed into the tiny, impoverished Gaza Strip, Ahmed is a descendant of refugees from Jaffa, a coastal town in Israel just south of Tel Aviv.

“No peace, no jobs, no unity and no future, so what difference would death make? If we are going to die, then let it not be in vain,” said Ahmed, who refused to give his full name, fearing Israeli reprisals.

The Israeli government accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza largely since Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew in 2005, of having instigated the protests and of using them as cover to launch attacks.

“Israel will continue to defend its borders and its citizens. Your country would do the same,” an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said on Twitter.

In recent days the Israeli military has displayed video footage in which the frontier fence is seen being cut and breached, with, Israel says, explosives planted there to target its troops.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)