Tens of thousands of Gazans gathered at the Israeli border Sunday to mark a year since protests and clashes erupted there, but fears of mass bloodshed were averted after late Egyptian-led negotiations.
Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, one during an overnight demonstration and three 17-year-olds in clashes later Saturday, the health ministry in Gaza City said. Another 316 Gazans were wounded.
But fears of a repeat of similar protests and clashes to those that saw more than 60 Palestinians killed on May 14, when the United States transferred its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, did not materialise.
Israel deployed several thousand troops along the border, with the anniversary coming at a sensitive time ahead of its April 9 elections. Egypt tried to mediate between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas to rein in violence.
Hamas officials say an understanding was reached that would see Israel ease its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for the protests remaining calm. Tens of thousands gathered at five protest points along the frontier on Saturday, but the vast majority stayed away from the border fence.
East of Gaza City, small groups of young men approached the fence and sought to break it multiple times but were forced back by Israeli tear gas and live fire. The protesters threw stones at the Israeli soldiers.
An Egyptian security delegation visited the protest site east of Gaza City, as did Hamas leaders Ismail Haniya and Yahya Sinwar. Israel’s army said around 40,000 “rioters and demonstrators” had gathered in spots throughout the border.