Great March of Return anniversary protests begin in Gaza

One Year On: Great March of Return: First anniversary of Gaza border protests

One Year On: Great March of Return: First anniversary of Gaza border protests

Some 30,000 Palestinians took part in protests at the Gaza border Saturday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces said, with some rioters throwing grenades and explosives toward the security fence as well as lobbing rocks at troops and burning tires.

An Israeli army spokeswoman declined to comment.

With security already featuring prominently as an issue in Israeli elections due on April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of Gaza will be a key issue as he seeks a fifth term in office.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that his faction had held three days of "marathon talks" with Egyptian mediators.

The protests call for the lifting of a security blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel's founding in 1948.

Thousands are expected to demonstrate on Saturday afternoon at various points along the Gaza-Israel border, one year after the start of regular mass protests demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees to homes now in Israel.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant group has threatened to unleash war against Israel if Palestinian civilians are killed during Saturday's mass protests in Gaza to mark a year since the start of the "Great March of Return".

While demonstrations have taken place at least weekly since March previous year, Hamas has been building up the anniversary protests for several months.

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Gaza's health ministry announced Saturday morning that it had completed preparations for the planned protests, with hospitals and ambulances on stand-by ahead of the demonstrations.

"In a year I will finish school, my father is unemployed so I will be unable to go to university, who is responsible?"

This day of protests will be a serious test of the fragile calm between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, says the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. "I don't know how many years will pass before our lives improve but we should continue (protests) as long as the occupation and the blockade exist". The security blockade, it says, is necessary in order to stop weapons from reaching Hamas and other armed groups which have fired thousands of rockets into Israel. One Israeli soldier was killed on a protest day but outside the protest sites, the commission said.

Palestinian women protesters flash the victory sign and wave Palestinian flags during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the "March of Return" protests, near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019. Authorities said they were looking into whether an incendiary balloon launched from the enclave sparked the blaze.

On Saturday morning, Israeli troops arrested two Palestinian minors armed with knives attempting to breach the Gaza border fence, the IDF said in a statement.

Israel defends its use of lethal force, saying that its troops are defending the border and Israelis living near it.

A United Nations inquiry says Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes during the marches - a charge Israel rejects.

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