Gazans pitch protest tents on Israel border as tensions mount

 Palestinians in Gaza pitched tents near the volatile border with Israel on Thursday ahead of a six-week protest camp under the gaze of wary Israeli soldiers.
The protest is dubbed "The Great March of Return" and has the backing of the Gaza Strip\’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
It comes amid rising tensions as the United States prepares to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
Organisers said the demonstration would be peaceful but Israeli officials are wary of a fresh flare-up along the enclave\’s border.
Five Palestinians were shot Thursday evening, the health ministry in Gaza said, after protestors approached the border in several places.
Armed forces chief Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot has warned of escalating tensions along Israel\’s borders.
He said reinforcements, including more than 100 special forces snipers, had been deployed near Gaza and the army was prepared for all scenarios.
"We won\’t allow mass infiltration into Israel" or damage to the border barrier, he told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
"The instructions are to use a lot of force."
Israel\’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, labelled the protest an "organised planned provocation" and reiterated "Israel\’s right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens."
The first protest will start Friday when Palestinians mark Land Day, commemorating the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.
Camping and protests in Gaza are expected to continue until mid-May, when the US is set to inaugurate its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.
Mid-May will also mark the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee their homes in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
According to the United Nations, some 1.3 million of Gaza\’s 1.9 million residents are refugees or their descendants.
-\’Return home\’-
Khaled al-Batsh, one of the protest organisers, said tents would be pitched 500 metres (yards) from the border, just outside the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel.
Water facilities were being installed and medical teams deployed to allow people to stay for long periods.
Organisers said tens of thousands of people would attend Friday\’s protest, although it was not clear they reached their estimate.
On Thursday small crowds gathered near the border as families set up tents, said an AFP correspondent at the site.
A young couple were married next to a tent along the border in Jabalia in northeastern Gaza on Thursday evening.
Batsh said protestors were calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that is now inside Israel.
"70 years ago we left and today we have decided to return to our country," he told AFP.
But senior Hamas figure Salah Bardawil said protesters were not planning to breach the border.
Hamas officials say they will monitor the area beyond the camp sites to prevent protesters going too close to the frontier, at least during the initial days of the protest.
Five main camp sites have been set up, spanning the length of the coastal territory from near the Erez border crossing in the north to Rafah in the far south, near Egypt.
Campers will be within sight of the border, frequently patrolled by Israeli soldiers.
On Thursday, around 20 family tents were pitched at a site near Erez, alongside two larger community tents for performances including the traditional Palestinian "dabke" dance.
At another site, young men were putting the finishing touches on dozens of wooden toilets, while large generators whirred into life.
Another organiser, Tahir Sawirki, told AFP Palestinians would gather Friday in groups representing the towns they left in 1948.
He said tens of thousands of meals would be prepared for more than 100,000 expected participants.
The White House\’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel\’s capital, breaking with decades of international diplomacy, infuriated much of the Arab world.
Palestinians claim the city\’s Israeli-annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
The Palestinian leadership cut ties with the administration of President Donald Trump in the wake of the move.
On Wednesday, Israeli tanks fired at Hamas positions in Gaza after heavy gunfire from the enclave, roadside bombs targeting border patrols and an incursion by three armed Palestinians who were later captured.
Two more Palestinians armed with knifes were detained after sneaking across the border Thursday, the Israeli army said.
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