While tens of thousands of Gazans rioted on Friday and Saturday at Hamas’ behest, Israeli security forces kept the situation from spiraling out of control.
By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff
Tens of thousands of Palestinians on Saturday rioted near the Israeli border to mark the first anniversary of weekly violent disturbances in the Gaza Strip, with Israeli troop weathering a steady rain of explosives and rocks hurled by rioters and staving off a number of infiltration attempts.
Egyptian mediators’ efforts to rein in Hamas also appeared to have paid off, with the Palestine violence failing to reach the “million man” fever pitch the terror group had threatened last week.
Israeli forces used conventional crowd dispersal tactics, with rainy weather also playing a role in the lower than expected turnout.
Saturday’s protest came at a sensitive time for both Israel and Hamas.
Israel has fought two wars and numerous smaller conflagrations with Hamas during the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking his fourth consecutive term in April 9 elections, but is facing a serious challenge from a group of ex-army chiefs who have criticized his Gaza policy.
Currently, Hamas remains in control of the coastal enclave, keeping Gaza’s population under its thumb by publicly beating Palestinians who deign to criticize the Islamic terror group’s regime.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu needs to keep the Israel-Gaza frontier quiet, without seeming to make concessions to Hamas. Netanyahu took heavy criticism this week for what was seen as a soft response to renewed rocket fire out of Gaza, which injured Israeli civilians in the center of the country.
Hamas, meanwhile, faces growing unrest in Gaza as a result of its severe mismanagement of resources, which it largely directs toward its terror campaign against Israel
Earlier this month, the group violently suppressed several days of public protests, staged under the slogan “We want to live,” over the dire conditions.
The Israeli military estimated 40,000 Palestinians were gathered at the marches, commenting, “The rioters are hurling rocks and setting tires on fire. In addition, a number of grenades and explosive devices have been hurled at the Gaza Strip security fence.”
Gaza health officials claimed three Palestinians were killed during this weekend’s riots.
A Gaza hospital worker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said one of the young men who died was a known member of a group that burns tires, flashes laser lights and detonates explosives near the fence at night to distract soldiers and disturb residents of nearby Israeli communities.
Egypt has repeatedly tried to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, stepping up efforts in recent days after a Gaza rocket struck a house in central Israel earlier this week, injuring seven Israelis and threatening renewed escalation.
Palestinians with knowledge of the talks have said that as part of the proposed deal, Gaza protesters were to keep away from the fence Saturday and Israeli troops were to show restraint.
Under the Egyptian plan, Israel was to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm, according to Palestinian officials.