Gaza marks ‘Land Day' and refugees’ right of return

Tens of thousands of Gazans rally at the border. Organisers want the protest to be peaceful. The event will be repeated until 15 May. Israel boosted its security measures, including an additional one hundred snipers with orders to shoot those who try to cross the border. Israel has also tightened security in connection with Passover. No travel permit has been issued to Gaza Christians to go to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tens of thousands of Palestinians set out to protest today in the Gaza Strip, on "Land Day", marching towards the border barrier with Israel to defend the right of Palestinians to return and to land.

The Palestinians say their protest will be peaceful with organisers calling on women, children and the seniors to participate.

Conversely, Israel prepared for possible strict response. About a hundred snipers have deployed along with regular border control troops. At the time of writing, there was already one Palestinian victim.

Land Day is held annually on 30 March to mark the day in 1976 when Israeli security forces killed six Israeli Arabs protesting against the expropriation of Arab lands in northern Israel.

The size of the rally remains hard to evaluate. Some sources say from 15,000 to 100,000. It will be the first of a series, some 700 metres from the border fence, with sites chosen along the border, until 15 May, Israel’s Independence Day, which the Palestinians commemorate as the "nakba", the catastrophe.

Called “'The Great March of Return”, the protest includes a rally along the border every Friday until 15 May, which is also the day the new US Embassy opens in Jerusalem.

The Israeli military announced harsh repressive measures, warning that its forces would shoot anyone trying to cross the border. Bus companies carrying protesters to the border will also have their permits to enter Israel cancelled.

This comes after Israeli authorities have been on high alert for days following attempts to get through the barrier from the Palestinian side. In one case, three young Palestinians managed to travel 20 kilometres into Israeli territory.

This morning, south of the Strip, near Khan Yunis, tensions claimed the first victim: a 27-year-old Palestinian farmer, Omar Wahid Samur, shot dead.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s tiny Christian community (about a thousand) has been caught up by the rising tensions.

So far, Israel has failed to grant any permit to Christians who want to travel to Jerusalem for Easter festivities. Church authorities had applied for about 600 permits for Gaza Palestinians but have not received any.

The current escalation is taking place as Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is getting worse. Not only are Hamas and Israel on a warpath again, but the deal struck by Hamas, which controls the Strip, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, has collapsed after the failed attempted assassination of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah two weeks ago in Gaza.