Hamas prepares for mass rallies along Gaza-Israel border
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's embattled Hamas rulers are imploring people to march along the border with Israel in the coming weeks in a risky gambit meant to shore up their shaky rule, but with potentially deadly consequences.
Beginning Friday, Hamas hopes it can mobilize large crowds to set up tent camps near the border. It plans a series of demonstrations culminating with a march to the border fence May 15, the anniversary of Israel's establishment, known to Palestinians as "the Nakba," or catastrophe.
The group aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people for the effort, though it hasn't been able to get such turnouts at past rallies. Nonetheless, a jittery Israel is closely watching and vowing a tough response if the border is breached.
"When we march to the border, the organizers will decide then what to do," said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official. Warning Israel against targeting the protesters, he said "the occupation should not commit any stupidity in confronting the Palestinian crowds."
Hamas says the demonstration is meant to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Gazans whose relatives fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.
But the first-of-its-kind protest also comes at a low point for the Islamic militant group and the 2 million residents of Gaza, where conditions have deteriorated since Hamas seized control of the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.