Palestinians plan Gaza border tent protests for refugees

GAZA CITY – Hundreds of tents are to be erected near the Gaza-Israel border for a 6-week show of support for Palestinian refugees, officials said Thursday, March 8, in what may stir fresh tensions with Israeli forces.

Palestinian families are to set up hundreds of tents – possibly thousands – for the protests running from March 30 to May 15, organizers said.

Protesters plan to call for the right of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East to return to homes they fled in the war surrounding the 1948 creation of Israel.

Organizers said the families could stay in the tents for prolonged periods, with youth and community activities planned.

The demonstration has the backing of all political factions in the Gaza Strip, including its Islamist rulers Hamas.

Israeli media said the army viewed the event as a potential security threat, while authorities were concerned over how to respond if violence erupted with women and children among the protesters.

Last month, 4 Israeli soldiers were wounded when an improvised explosive device was planted along the Gaza border, apparently during a protest.

The dates for the demonstration have significance for Palestinians.

"Land Day" on March 30 commemorates the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.

May 15 is what the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or the catastrophe, marking when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled their land during the war that led to the creation of Israel.

Hamas has denied it initiated the tent protest.

"This is a popular movement and has a peaceful, community-based nature supported by national and Islamic factions and resorted to after all other routes the Palestinians took did not bear fruit," Bassem Naim, a top Hamas official, told the Agence France-Presse.

"We expect the occupation to suppress it but it carries all responsibility."

Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said the army was concerned that families could become involved in marches toward the border with Israel.

Army "officials are worried that any attempt to stop the people marching by force will severely damage Israel’s public image", it said.

"Officials are also worried about possible civilian casualties and about the possibility that the protests along the fence might devolve into armed conflict." –