Israeli troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians on the Gaza border on Friday, Gaza medical officials said, as Israeli tanks massed on the eve of a huge rally to mark the first anniversary of the start of the deadly protests.
Egyptian mediators and humanitarian officials were working to avoid further bloodshed ahead of Saturday’s commemoration of the ‘Great March of Return’ border protests, which began on March 30 last year.
Around 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli fire at the protests, Gaza medics say, as the demonstrations turned into an often deadly standoff between Gazans hurling rocks and petrol bombs and Israel troops on the other side of the fence.
Israel defends its use of lethal force, saying that its troops are defending the border and Israelis living near it.
With security already featuring prominently as an issue in Israeli elections due on April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of Gaza will be a key issue as he seeks a fifth term in office.
His right-wing coalition government launched air strikes and moved armor and reinforcements to the Gaza border this week after a Palestinian rocket attack wounded seven Israelis in a village north of Tel Aviv on Monday.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said it “continues to prepare for possible escalations with a wide variety of operational plans.”
In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that his faction had held three days of “marathon talks” with Egyptian mediators.
The focus of those talks, he said, had been on “resolving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in a way that will end the suffering of our people and preserve their dignity.”
Haniyeh warned that Hamas would consider Israel’s response to demands that it ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, help create jobs and permit more humanitarian aid. “In the light of that we will decide... how things will go in the coming hours,” he said.