Gaza City: The Israel-Gaza border saw the quietest weekly protests in months Friday, amid reports of a truce agreement between the Jewish state and the strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
In total seven Palestinians were shot, the health ministry in Gaza said, down dramatically from previous weeks, as protesters largely stayed well away from the border.
Reports Thursday suggested Egypt had brokered a deal that would see Hamas end the eight months of often violent demonstrations in exchange for a loosening of Israel’s crippling blockade on the strip.
Such a deal would see Israel allow Qatari money to be transferred to Gaza to pay salaries of public employees hired by Hamas, as well as fuel deliveries, in exchange for calm, Israeli media said.
There was no official confirmation of the agreement.
The protests went ahead on Friday but local media suggested Hamas was keen to keep them calm to ensure goodwill with mediators Egypt and the United Nations.
Thousands again gathered in several sites across the border Friday but largely stayed away from the barrier, AFP correspondents said.
At a demonstration east of Gaza City, Hamas security personnel were seen preventing protesters from getting too close to the fence.
Unlike previous protests, demonstrators did not fly kites with attached incendiary devices across the border to set fire to Israeli farmland, and few tyres were burned, the correspondents said.
The previous week’s demonstrations saw seven Palestinians die and a further 180 others wounded by Israeli fire during fierce clashes, according to the ministry.
At least 218 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30, according to an AFP toll.
One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.
Protesters are calling 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 says any such return would mean its demise as a Jewish state.
It accuses Hamas of controlling the protests and seeking to use them to carry out attacks.
– Egyptian border visit –
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and fears remain high that recent tensions could slide into another conflict.
The Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade of the strip, which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas.
Critics say it amounts to collective punishment of the coastal territory’s two million residents.
After last Friday’s protests, Hamas ally Islamic Jihad fired a series of rockets at Israel.
In response Israel struck Hamas and Jihad sites in the strip, without injuries on either side.
Egypt and the UN have been mediating indirect negotiations for months in the hope of ending the protests and reaching a long-term truce deal.
An Egyptian security delegation had been ferrying between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel during the week seeking to secure a deal.
The delegation briefly visited the border protests Friday in the first such publicly announced visit by Egyptian officials, eyewitnesses and organisers said.
During those protests, senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said they were close to success.
“The efforts will succeed soon thanks to the steadfastness of our people in the marches,” he told protesters.
He said the protests would continue until they achieved their goals.