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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Israel kills four Palestinians as Gaza siege protests escalate

Rallies have continued after a deal to ease Israel's blockade failed

Relatives of Palestinian Ahmed Omar, who was killed during a protest near the Israeli Erez crossing with Gaza, mourn during his funeral in Al-Shati refugee camp. Reuters
Relatives of Palestinian Ahmed Omar, who was killed during a protest near the Israeli Erez crossing with Gaza, mourn during his funeral in Al-Shati refugee camp. Reuters

Israel killed four Palestinians in Gaza over the course of 24 hours as protests in the coastal enclave escalated after an Egyptian-led deal to ease the Israeli blockade failed.

The protests had been limited to weekly events but Hamas, the territory’s rulers, have pledged to step up the rallies near Israel’s perimeter.

The group accuses the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of derailing regional efforts to broker a deal to end the marches in exchange for lifting of the closure, which Israel and Egypt imposed in response to Hamas' takeover of Gaza.

Gazans have protested on a daily basis since Monday but those rallies have turned deadly.

Gaza's Health Ministry said two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire at a protest near a crossing point between the enclave and Israel.

Two men found dead near the site of an Israeli missile strike on Tuesday at the coastal strip's border with Israel were identified as Palestinian cousins, family members said. The Israeli military said it had attacked a group suspected of tampering with the border fence.

Shortly before midnight on Monday the Israeli military said one of its aircraft had fired at a group of suspected militants who had "suspiciously approached" the border fence and placed an object next to it.

Israel maintains a crippling siege of Gaza’s land, air and sea. The territory has the highest unemployment rate in the world and the UN says it will be unlivable by 2020.

Gazan groups have made it clear that they will not back down despite Israel killing at least 133 people since the rallies began on March 30 and maimed hundreds by aiming at their lower limbs.

“The goal behind extending the confrontation is to provoke the national movement, which is considered one of the pressure tools on international opinion in order to break the Israeli siege,” Talal Abu Tharefa, senior member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a leftist Gaza faction, told The National.

"Next week will witness a new method of resistance where the protesters will start to fly flame balloons.”

Hundreds of young people have mobilised to join the Gaza protests on the border with Israel, and they say they will continue to do so until Israel’s blockade is broken.

“I am going to the demonstrations on the border areas to protest against the Israeli occupation and to bring back our lands, and break the siege,” Ameen Alkhateeb, a 16-year-old student, told The National. “What is happening on the borders of Gaza reveals the crimes of Israel against our youth which will lead to them being sued at the international courts.”

But, while any reconciliation between Hamas and the PA looks unlikely, Gazans still yearn for their fellow Palestinians to align once again for the good of the millions who reside in the blockaded territory.

“I went to the eastern borders to protest three times, but I stopped and I don't encourage anyone to go because the stone will not do anything in front of the Israeli bullets,” Raed Ali, a 30-year-old street vendor, said.

“The only solution for our situation is the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas that will make the situation better, the youth go to the demonstrations because they don't have any other option.”

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Gaza’s economic situation has continued to deteriorate as the US administration has moved to cut all funding the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, which many in Gaza depend on for support or employment.

US President Donald Trump and his Middle East advisers have been taking measures against the Palestinians in a bid to bring them to the negotiating table. But officials in Ramallah have so far refused to consider any US proposal after its embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We are here protesting against the new decisions against the employees of the UNRWA and against the refugees in general,” Reem Albahaisi, an UNRWA nurse, told The National.

“It is a catastrophe for Gaza. There are no salaries for governmental employees and no salaries for UNRWA employees. This will only lead to collapse.”

When Gazans thought their hopes could not fall any lower, recent months have seen any dreams of freedom from blockade seemingly vanquished. Residents are now preparing for what could be another outbreak of conflict, four years after Israel killed more than 2,000 Palestinians in a seven-week war.

"What is coming for Gaza is so difficult we can't be optimistic that a positive signs are coming,” Dr. Jamal Alfadi, a lecturer in political science, told The National.

“There will not be a reconciliation with the conditions that were imposed and with the sanctions of the President Mahmoud Abbas. It seems that what is coming is the worst.”