Relative Calm on Israel-Gaza Border: Thousands Protest as Egyptian Delegation Monitors

Nearly 7,000 Palestinians are protesting along the Gaza border on Friday, spread out across several locations, with about half of them staying near the tent encampment and the other clashing with Israeli security forces close to the fence.

Palestinian reports claim most of the protesters are congregating near the tented area some 700 meters from the fence, with several dozen young Gazans approaching the fence.

An Egyptian security delegation arrived at the protest encampment east of Bureij refugee camp to keep close track of events, according to Gaza news outlets.

Eighty-seven protesters were reported wounded by the Palestinian Red Crescent. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 32 have been evacuated to hospitals, with seven of those being wounded by live gunfire. The rest were treated for tear gas inhalation. No severe injuries were reported.

>> Why Netanyahu is willing to pay a political price for keeping Gaza talks alive | Analysis

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Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said "we are close to the point where we’ll achieve success thanks to the March of Return protests, and we’re expecting good news which will have a positive impact on everyone."

Al-Hayya said Hamas is keeping track of promises made to the Palestinians through mediators, and that "Israel is being tested now. We’re telling the whole world the marches will continue until the siege is ended."
If the blockade on Gaza is lifted, al-Hayya said, "We’ll change strategy in regards to our struggle."

Also Friday, an Israeli official said the option of reaching a settlement in Gaza must be exhausted, adding that Israel is succeeding in averting a humanitarian crisis so far via transfer of Qatari fuel and salaries to Hamas officials. The official also stressed Israel must ensure the funds do not reach terrorist factors within the organization.

"This could fail even in an hour, and we’re prepared for the second option," said the official. "We’re prepared to exert a lot of force."

On Thursday, a senior Hamas official told Haaretz the Palestinian factions in the Strip decided to put an end to the violent protests along the border with Israel, as well as stop the launching of airborne firebombs. 

According to the official, the protesters will also stop setting tires on fire and approaching the Israeli side of the border.

At a conference held ahead of Friday’s protests, the factions – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and several others – agreed to lower the level of friction in light of the talks brokered by Egypt. The decision also follows Israel’s decision to expand the permitted fishing zone off the Gaza Strip’s coast and transfer funds from Qatar for Hamas salaries.