Gaza protests escalate after deal to ease blockade fails
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians protested Wednesday at a new location along the perimeter fence between Israel and Gaza as Hamas intensified demonstrations at the border after Egyptian-led cease-fire talks stalled.
The militant Hamas group was hoping its indirect talks with Israel would result in the lifting of a crippling blockade that Israel and Egypt placed on Gaza when it took over the territory in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority, but it accused the West Bank-based PA of thwarting the negotiations.
For months, the marches were limited to Fridays but Wednesday's protest is the third this week, with new grounds including Gaza's northwestern tip at the Mediterranean where land and sea boundaries converge. On Tuesday, Palestinian protested outside Erez, the only crossing point for people into Israel or the West Bank.
"This thunderous march will not stop until the ordeal is over. This is our resolution," Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said during the funeral of a Palestinian killed a day earlier at a protest.
For Hamas, giving new momentum to the protests aims at building more pressure on Israel.
"Creating new ways and tactics and diversifying the marches is meant to achieve the coveted goal of ... the lifting of the siege," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
The protests have persisted since late March, driven in large part by the desperation of living under the blockade.
Hamas was close to reaching a deal and the mediation efforts reached their peak in August, but intervention by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority resulted in "confusing and slowing" the discussions, Qassem said.
With limited options, Hamas resorted to escalating the protests in response to "its feeling that it was let down," said independent Gaza analyst Akram Attallah.
Hamas expects the persistence of the protests will become "annoying to Israel and invite a renewal of mediation diplomacy," he said.
Israeli gunfire has killed 133 people who were either present or participating in the demonstrations, including three paramedics and two journalists. In July, an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper from Gaza.
At the protests, Palestinians burn tires, hurl rocks and sometimes firebombs at Israeli forces and snipers perched atop earthen mounds behind the boundary fence. For some time, protest activists sent incendiary kites and balloons across the fence to set fire to Israeli farmland.