GAZA/JERUSALEM – Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off dramatically, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed in the violent protests.
Gaza’s dominant Islamist Hamas movement, denying any pressure from neighboring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, said they would continue, even as far smaller numbers of Palestinians gathered in protest tents.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt, which also borders Gaza and has sought to broker between the Islamists and Israel.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said an Egyptian intelligence chief, whom he did not name, warned Haniyeh that Cairo “knows and has proof” that Hamas was funding the protests and sending people to the border fence to serve “as living ammunition, women and children instead of shells and rockets.”
The Egyptian official “made unequivocally clear to him (Haniyeh) that if this continues, Israel will respond and take far harsher steps, and Egypt will stand by and will not help,” Katz told Israel Radio in an interview.
“Haniyeh returned to Gaza, Hamas gave an order … and miraculously, this spontaneous protest by a public that could not handle the situation any more dissipated.”
There was no immediate response from Egypt to Katz’s statements, which Hamas dismissed as false.
“There is no mediation. The marches will continue until our people achieve their goals,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
At a news conference at a protest encampment on Wednesday, Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, urged people to take part in mass rallies on Friday.
But the start on Thursday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, could limit the scale of the demonstrations.
In a statement issued at the news conference, the factions said the fasting would be taken into account. They said marches would continue through early June.