GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Thousands of Palestinians thronged the perimeter fence between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Friday as the weekly, bloody demonstrations rolled into their second year.
The protest, occurring just days before Israel’s April 9 vote, is the first since an Egyptian-brokered deal emerged to end the latest round of cross-border fighting between the enemies.
Hamas officials say the agreement promises to ease tight Israeli restrictions on Gaza and provide much-needed economic incentives in exchange for the group keeping border protests peaceful.
But demonstrations turned violent on Friday. Dozens approached the barrier, setting tires ablaze and hurling rocks and makeshift explosives at the fence. Israeli troops responded with tear gas and live bullets.
Gaza’s health officials reported that 83 Palestinians were injured, one critically. It did not provide a breakdown of how the injuries were inflicted.
There were signs earlier this week that the cease-fire had borne fruit, including Israel’s expansion of the Palestinian fishing zone to an extent that hadn’t been seen in years.
It’s unclear how long the arrangements will last. Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, announced at Friday’s rally that the group “doesn’t trust” Israel and vowed to continue the weekly demonstrations.
It’s sensitive timing for Israel, which holds its general election on Tuesday.
Earlier Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the outcome of the Israeli election won’t impact Palestinians. He called the vote an internal “Zionist affair.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is locked in a heated race for re-election against a party of former army chiefs, which has criticized his failure to deter Gaza rockets. Otherwise, Israel’s long-running conflict with the Palestinians has been strikingly absent from political debate.
Haniyeh added that differences between Israeli political parties are “very marginal” when it comes to policy toward Palestinians.
Hamas launched the protests in March 2018 in an attempt to break the crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory. Close to 200 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed in the demonstrations.
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