Israel braces for protests as Palestinians mark ‘Naksa Day’
Israel was readying for potentially violent protests along the Gaza border on Tuesday as Palestinians marked the anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, an annual commemoration known as the ‘Naksa’, or ‘setback’.
As in previous years, Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza were expected to hold rallies marking the start of the war on June 5, 1967 sparking concern that the ‘Naksa’ protests could see a return to violent clashes on the Gaza border.
Additional troops were being deployed throughout the West Bank and along the Gaza border on Tuesday in case protests turn violent, Hebrew-language media reports said.
But the Israeli military assesses that Gaza protest organizers will instead focus efforts on drawing participation in a mass demonstration on Friday, in continuation of the weekly ‘Great March of Return’ protests which began on March 30.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have taken part in the weekly Friday protests which kicked off on ‘Nakba Day’ (‘Day of Catastrophe’ in Arabic), calling for the right to return to ancestral lands they either left or were forced from during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
The demonstrations have been accompanied by clashes as some protesters hurl stones at Israeli soldiers and attempt to breach the border fence, at times laying explosive devices on the fence or throwing grenades and using kites carrying cans on fire to set ablaze Israeli fields, torching extensive patches of agricultural land near Gaza.
Israel accuses Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas of using the protests as an excuse to carry out attacks and has responded with both lethal and non-lethal force, resulting in the deaths of 125 Palestinians.
The demonstrations and violence peaked on May 14 when at least 61 Palestinians were killed in clashes as some 40,000 Gazans protested the US transfer of its embassy in Israel to the disputed city of Jerusalem the same day.
Low-level demonstrations have continued since.
Organizers had pegged the next mass demonstration for Naksa Day, marking the beginning of the Six Day War on June 5, 1967 during which Israel captured swathes of land from Jordan and Egypt, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has since then instead attempted to rally participation for a protest on Friday June 8, dubbing it the “March of a Million to Jerusalem”. Israel fears that the Friday protest will see a mass attempt to breach the border, sparking concern of another fracas on the same scale as the deadly May 14 violence.
The violence on the Israel-Gaza border has drawn international condemnation, with Israel’s use of live fire against protesters under particular scrutiny.
On Monday, a 21-year-old volunteer medic with the Gaza health ministry was fatally shot in the chest during protests near Khan Yunis.
Hours later, Israel said militants in the Palestinian enclave fired projectiles at the south of the country, raising fears of a fresh escalation just days after a ceasefire brought an end to the worst flare-up since a 2014 war.
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