GAZA: Crowds of Palestinians protested along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday but in fewer numbers and with less fury than has been seen for months as Egyptian mediators worked to lower tension along the frontier.
Israeli troops wounded seven people when they opened fire on protesters but there were no fatalities, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military confirmed it had shot at them.
Nearly 220 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during almost seven months of protests, according to Gaza figures.
Palestinians say they are protesting against Israel’s blockade of the territory and in support of a right for Palestinian refugees to return to land lost during Israel’s founding in 1948. Israel says any such return would mean its demise as a Jewish state.
It accuses Hamas of controlling the protests and seeking to use them to carry out attacks
The weekly protests in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip began in March and at times have attracted tens of thousands of people.
But on Friday, when Egyptian officials, who have been shuttling between Israel and Gaza, made a rare visit to the frontier, just several thousand showed up.
Protesters still set fire to tires but fewer in number.
During those protests, senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya said they were close to success.
“The efforts will succeed soon thanks to the steadfastness of our people in the marches,” he told protesters.
He said the protests would continue until they achieved their goals.
The Israeli military, which usually says Palestinians attack the border fence during the protest, said that while there were indeed disturbances, much of the crowd kept their distance.
A Palestinian official familiar with the Egyptian mediation said the goal was to end the protests and in return secure an easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the demonstrations to provide cover for attacks and distract from Gaza’s economic plight, allegations it denies.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 and has since fought three wars with Israel, most recently in 2014.
Israel says the blockade on the Gaza Strip is necessary to isolate Hamas. Critics say it amounts to collective punishment of the coastal territory’s two million residents.