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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Gaza protests to test Egypt cease-fire negotiation efforts

Senior leaders have told marchers to act in a non-violent manner

Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest on the beach at the border with Israel near Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. AP
Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest on the beach at the border with Israel near Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. AP

Thousands of Palestinian protesters are expected to mass along Israel's border with Gaza for another weekly protest, testing Egypt's efforts to mediate a lasting ceasefire between Israel and the militant Hamas group.

Mosque loudspeakers in the Palestinian enclave urged Gazans to attend Friday's demonstrations, despite statements by Gaza's leaders that Hamas seeks to rein in the protests.

A senior leader of the Islamic Jihad group and one of the main organisers of the protests called on protesters to act in a non-violent manner.

“The most important message tomorrow is the masses gathering in a peaceful manner,” Khaled Al Batsh said in a statement.

“The March of Return is continuing until its goals are attained, with an emphasis on the importance of holding marches that will be non-violent and led by the people,” he wrote.

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Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas and Israeli officials on Thursday in efforts to broker a cease-fire and ease months of deadly border protests.

The negotiations seek to defuse simmering tensions. On Wednesday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip destroyed a house in the Israeli city of Beersheba in the worst bout of violence in recent weeks. Israel retaliated with airstrikes and has beefed up its military presence on the border.

Following the rocket attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet for a lengthy, late-night meeting. But Israel refrained from further retaliation, suggesting it was giving the Egyptians a chance to restore calm.

UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov urged all friends of Israel and the Palestinians to join the UN in calling on all sides "to step back from the brink" of war, calling Gaza a "powder keg".

"We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent," he told the UN Security Council in a video briefing from Jerusalem.

"I am afraid that there is no more time for words," Mr Mladenov said. "Now is the time for action. And we must see very clear actions on all sides that de-escalate the situation. Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone."

He said all parties must maintain their commitment under a cease-fire that ended a 2014 war – the third between the sides since the Hamas takeover.