GAZA CITY, GAZA - The Gaza leader of the Hamas militant group on Wednesday said that a mass protest on the Israeli border will be “decisive,” vowing that he and other top officials were “ready to die” in a campaign to end Israel's decade-old blockade of the territory.
In a speech to hundreds of Gazan youths, Yehiyeh Sinwar said Hamas has rejected international proposals to stop the weekly, often violent gatherings, which culminate in Monday's mass demonstration.
“We can't stop these protests. We are supporting, even leading, them,” he said. The protests will be “like a tiger running in all directions,” he said.
The Hamas-led demonstrations are meant to protest a crippling decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the group seized power in Gaza in 2007, and assert Palestinian demands to return to lost properties in what is now Israel.
Monday's demonstration will cap six weeks of protests and coincides with the U.S. move of its Israel embassy to contested Jerusalem and the date when Palestinians mark 70 years of displacement. Two-thirds of Gaza's 2 million people are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes during the war surrounding Israel's establishment.
The audience included activists who have been leading the confrontations each Friday, burning tires along the fence, throwing stones at Israeli troops and flying incendiary kites over dry fields on the Israeli side of the border. Some of the youths brandished wire cutters, a popular tool in weekly attempts to cut through the border fence. Hamas has signaled it may encourage protesters to storm the border next week.
Sinwar said “regional and international” mediators have relayed proposals in an attempt to defuse the tensions. He did not identify the mediators or reveal the offers.
Going further, he said Hamas leaders “are ready to die along with tens of thousands” as the marches climax next week.
Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli fire has killed 40 and wounded hundreds, sparking criticism from rights groups, the United Nations and the European Union that Israel is using excessive force against unarmed protesters.
Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and will not allow any breach by the protesters. It accuses Hamas of exploiting civilians in an attempt to divert attention from the difficult conditions in Gaza.
Sinwar was freed in a prisoner swap with Israel in 2011 and was elected as the movement's Gaza chief in 2017.
Hamas has said if the protests “don't achieve their goals,” they will continue.