Hundreds Rally to End Gaza Blockade

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists rallied on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border Thursday, demanding that Israel end its blockade of the territory.

Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, addressed activists on the Israeli side of the border through a mobile phone, belonging to Israeli-Arab lawmaker Talab A-Sana, and thanked them for their support.  He added that Jerusalem will "remain Arab and Islamic."

Egypt and Israel have kept their borders with Gaza largely closed since Hamas militants seized power in the territory in 2007. 

Last December, Israel launched a military offensive into Gaza to stop cross-border rocket attacks by Hamas militants.  The fighting killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Hours after Thursday's rally, a rocket fired from Gaza hit the southern Israeli town of Netivot.  Israeli police say no one was hurt.  It was the first time that Palestinian militants fired a Grad rocket at Israel in nearly a year.

Organizers of the Gaza Freedom March said the goal is to raise international awareness about the plight of Gaza's 1.5 million people.

About 1,300 international activists from 42 nations had gathered in Egypt, hoping to participate in the event.  Egypt permitted fewer than 100 to enter Gaza late Wednesday.

Egypt initially refused to allow any of the activists to enter Gaza, citing security reasons.  But, it agreed Tuesday to let a small group cross the border after hundreds of the activists staged demonstrations and a hunger strike in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government is preparing a $50-million aid package for Israeli communities near the Gaza border.

Mr. Netanyahu said money was needed because the communities have been targeted by "thousands of rockets fired by Iran-sponsored terror organizations."

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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