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Gaza Protest Against Israeli Blockade Ends Peacefully

A large protest by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip has ended without incident. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem a Palestinian rocket attack against southern Israel on Monday severely injured a ten-year-old boy.

The protest consisted of about 5,000 people - mostly secondary and university students linking hands and forming a human chain near the town of Beit Hanoun, five kilometers from the Gaza border. The large peaceful crowd carried banners calling for an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed last month to counter Palestinian rocket fire against the Israeli town of Sderot, just across the Gaza border.

Israeli media reports had warned of tens of thousands of protesters trying to storm the Gaza border. Israel mobilized thousands of troops to counter the perceived threat, warning that protesters would be shot if they attempted to break through into Israel.

Jamal al-Khoudary the Palestinian independent lawmaker who organized the protest says it was meant to send a signal of non-violent resistance to Israel's actions.

"This protest is important today to tell all the world that the Palestinian people live under an illegal siege and in a bad situation," he said. "The world today must make pressure on Israel to end this siege because there is a big problem, too much suffering, the people are suffering here."

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza last month after Palestinian militants stepped up rocket attacks against the town of Sderot. In retaliation, Hamas militants knocked down parts of the southern border wall between Gaza and Egypt allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flood into Egypt to buy goods that they had been unable to obtain. Since then Egypt has resealed its Gaza border.

Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza severely injured a ten-year-old boy in Sderot on Monday. Eli Moyal , the mayor of the beleaguered city, recently caused a sensation in Israel when he said he would be willing to speak with Hamas to stop the rocket fire. Speaking with VOA, Moyal says he does not expect Israel's government to talk with Hamas but it must do something to end the attacks.

"The government has two options; peace or war," he said. "But they are not doing peace or war, this is the problem. If they have any political solution, please bring it, but if they do not, please fight. But they cannot do anything. This is the problem with Sderot."

The rising number if injuries from rocket attacks - especially of children - is putting severe pressure on Israel's government to carry out a large military operation in Gaza, something the government is resisting because of fears of casualties - both among Israeli troops and Palestinian civilians.

On Sunday, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a plan to fortify about half the homes in Sderot against rocket attacks at a cost of $91 million.