Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off dramatically, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire.
Gaza’s dominant Islamist Hamas movement, denying any pressure from neighboring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, said they would continue, even as far smaller numbers of Palestinians gathered in protest tents.
Gaza medics said two Palestinians were shot dead during Tuesday’s demonstrations along the 51 km (32 mile) border. On Monday, 60 were killed in a far greater turnout on the day the United States relocated its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
Pushing back against foreign censure of its army’s actions, Israel has – with Washington’s backing – accused Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks across the frontier fence and to distract from Gaza’s internal problems. Hamas denies this.
Angered by the U.S. embassy move and the Gaza bloodshed, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul to Istanbul, Ankara said on Wednesday. Israel responded to its envoy’s expulsion on Tuesday by expelling Turkey’s Jerusalem consul.
There has been little Israeli domestic dissent at the lethal tactics around Gaza, where in the last decade Israel has fought three wars against Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction.
Dubbed the March of Return, the protests were launched on March 30 to demand Palestinian access to family lands or homes lost to Israel during its founding in a 1948 war. Larger crowds have flocked to the border after Muslim prayers on Fridays.
Gaza analyst Akram Attallah, pointing to the smaller number of protesters since Monday’s deaths, said: “I can see there is a retreat because of the Israeli bloody response … but Friday will represent an indicator to where things are going.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt, which also borders Gaza and has sought to broker between the Islamists and Israel.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said an Egyptian intelligence chief, whom he did not name, warned Haniyeh that Cairo “knows and has proof” that Hamas was funding the protests and sending people to the border fence to serve “as living ammunition, women and children instead of shells and rockets”. -Reuters