Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part this weekend in demonstrations to commemorate the anniversary of so-called “Great March of Return“; despite the stormy weather and strong winds.
The Israel Defense Forces said that 40,000 people gathered to demonstrate on the border with Israel, while local media were a little more generous claiming that the figure rose to 55,000. Either way, this is a relatively modest number for the “Million March,” promised by Hamas, the Islamist group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 with an iron fist.
The vast majority of demonstrators stayed away from the border fence. Groups set tires on fire and threw stones, grenades and objects at the border security fence, protected by Israeli soldiers, causing a few series of disturbances.
According to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health, three Palestinians were killed in the clashes, one of them before the protest began. The Ministry added that five other Palestinians were seriously injured, and at least 244 wounded entered hospitals in the Strip.
The IDF and the Israeli political leadership expressed satisfaction that the protests ended with a relatively low level of violence and that Hamas played an active role in keeping protesters away from the border fence, against the backdrop of an alleged agreement with Israel.
The military spokesman, General Ronen Manelis, emphasized that Hamas “operated with a restraint that had not been seen during the past years.
Manelis noted that hundreds of Hamas members, wearing orange vests, were scattered among the crowd, preventing the masses from running toward the border security fence.
Hamas sent a text message to the protesters saying, “Stay away from the fence, “to avoid enemy traps”” the media on the ground reported.
Israel had deployed along the Gaza border about 200 snipers and thousands of elite soldiers, artillery and tank reinforcements, and surveillance aircraft. An unprecedented number of troops were mobilized, including reservists and several brigades.
Although Palestinian demonstrators threw 400 explosive devices over the border fence, no injuries were recorded among Israeli soldiers. Two explosive devices carried by balloons flew over the border into Israeli territory.
Although the bulk of the protest faded at dusk, several groups in the coastal enclave called for renewed demonstrations and riots during the night.