Gaza protest leaders want calmer Friday demo amid truce talks

Gaza protest leaders want calmer Friday demo amid truce talks
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A Palestinian woman protesters carry and wear Palestinian flags as they stand amidst smoke from burning tyres during clashes following a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on October 26, 2018. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Gaza City: Gaza protest leaders are calling for calmer border demonstrations Friday to give a chance to efforts to reach a long-term truce with Israel after months of deadly unrest, a source in the organising committee said.

However, previous such hopes for a deal have been dashed since protests and clashes along the border between Israel and the blockaded Gaza Strip began on March 30.

It was not clear if demonstrators would heed calls for calm.

“Friday’s events will be quiet,” an official from the committee in charge of organising the marches told AFP Thursday, on condition of anonymity.

Egypt and UN officials have been engaged in indirect talks between Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, and Israel.

An Egyptian delegation was in Gaza on Thursday for further discussions, meeting with leaders of different factions.

After the meeting, a member of the organising committee said the Egyptians would attend Friday’s protests.

“The Egyptian security delegation will visit one of return march sites tomorrow,” Maher Mazhar told journalists.

He did not give further details, but it would be the first publicly announced visit to the protests by an Egyptian official.

The committee is technically independent from Hamas, but includes representatives allied to the Islamist movement.

The unnamed official said the agreement to quieten the border Friday “will give an opportunity for the success of the Egyptian efforts to (achieve) calm and lift the siege.”

Protests would still go ahead, he said, but demonstrators would be encouraged not to approach the fence too closely, burn tyres or send balloons equipped with incendiary devices across the border.

Recent weeks have seen efforts by the UN and Egypt result in Qatari-funded fuel deliveries for Gaza, easing a severe electricity shortage.

There have also reportedly been talks with a view to Israel allowing Qatari cash into the Gaza Strip to pay public salaries.

But last week, hopes for a deal were dashed by further border violence.

Seven Palestinians died in renewed clashes along the border last Friday.

Hours later, Islamic Jihad — a Hamas-allied militant group — fired dozens of rockets at Israel, which responded with extensive air strikes.

In a statement after a meeting of their leaders in Gaza on Thursday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the marches would continue.

Both groups praised Egyptian and UN efforts to broker a deal.

Since often violent protests began on March 30, at least 218 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Demonstrators are calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to the homes their families fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel and which are now inside the Jewish state.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008 and the recent unrest has raised fears of a fourth.