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Will the "Great March of Return" protests in Palestine lead to military escalation?

Palestinians march to mark Land Day east of Gaza City Palestinians march to mark Land Day east of Gaza City
The death toll from Friday's rally is the largest since the last Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Since then Gaza has seen a long period of calm but difficult economic conditions and the Israeli blockade may be the final chapter in the four-year truce between Hamas and Israel.

Despite the call for peaceful demonstrations, the confrontations involving angry Palestinian youths were not surprising. Young men have been demonstrating near the border with Israel on numerous occasions, but this time Israel's response was exaggerated.

Tomorrow, the Palestinians will bury their dead and head back to the border with Israel to throw stones at the soldiers. The important question that remains is to what extent will peaceful demonstrations succeed in stopping an impending war, or will the protests lead to military escalation?

Hamas, the militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, does not recognise Israel's right to exist but last year said it was ready to accept an interim Palestinian state limited to Gaza and the West Bank.

Addressing protesters on Friday, Hamas senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh said "we will not concede a single inch of the land of Palestine".

He said: "There is no alternative to Palestine and no solution except to return."

Palestinian health officials said at least 400 people had been wounded by live ammunition. It said one of those killed was a 16-year-old boy.

Ismail Haniyeh
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh reiterated that his organisation would not recognise the Israeli state. | Image copyright Reuters

What have the Israelis said?

The Israeli military oversees a no-go zone along the Gaza border, citing security concerns, and has doubled its troop presence for the protest. It fears the protest could be an attempt at a mass breach of the border.


Map of Camp positions587
Map showing the position of the five protest camps. Source: Haaretz

The Israeli foreign ministry said the protest was a "deliberate attempt to provoke a confrontation with Israel" and responsibility for any clashes lay "solely with Hamas and other participating Palestinian organisations".

How has the UN Security Council reacted?

UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the council the situation in Gaza "might deteriorate in the coming days" and called for civilians, particularly children, to not be targeted, Reuters news agency reports.

"Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law," he said.

"Lethal force should only be used as a last resort with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities."

What is the protest about?

Palestinians have erected five main camp areas along the Israel border for the protest, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah near the Egyptian border.

Protesters in Palestine
Image caption An injured protester is evacuated from Jabaliya | Image copyright AFP

The Great March of Return protests started on Friday as 30 March marks Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over land confiscation in 1976.

The protest is scheduled to end on 15 May, which Palestinians call Nakba (catastrophe) and which marks the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the conflict surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

Last modified onSaturday, 31 March 2018 10:12
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