Thursday, June 30News That Matters

Hamas warns of 'bloodier' Gaza protests

A senior Hamas leader has warned that protests at Gaza’s border fence with Israel will get bigger and “bloodier” unless there is an easing of the 10-year economic blockade of the coastal strip.

Planned demonstrations this week are set to be further inflamed after 21-year-old medic, Razan al Najar, was shot dead at the border last Friday.

The United Nations has called the incident “reprehensible”.

Clearly there is no end in sight to the protests and the intensity of the confrontation along the Gaza-Israel border is not easing.

The air is thick with choking CS gas and the sporadic crack of passing bullets overwhelms ones senses. We filmed at one of the latest demonstrations against the economic blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

Crowds ran towards waiting paramedics and ambulances metres from the front lines. It’s chaotic as they carry the injured on stretchers or in their arms. Some are shot high on the body and are in terrible shape. Others wincing in pain are hit in the leg.

Razan Al-Najar, far right, working during a tear gas attack in Gaza in April
Image: Razan al Najar, far right, working during a tear gas attack in Gaza in April

Everyone knows that Israel will protect its border. Everyone knows they will use lethal force if they try to cross or threaten the lives of Israeli soldiers.

Many here would contest that the soldiers keep to those rules, but regardless, the protesters still keep coming and thousands have been hurt, over a hundred killed.

Many end up in hospitals and clinics across Gaza – an enormous logistical and medical response to what is now quite clearly a crisis akin to an actual battle.

In the Medicine Sans Frontiers clinic in Gaza city, where they are treating those with long-term injuries, they are receiving 20 new patients a day – it used to be 20 a month.

A relative mourns during the Razan's funeral
Image: A relative mourns during the Razan's funeral

As it stands, they have 1,295 long-term casualties to deal with, they are almost stretched to the limit now. The reception area is full of young men, all on crutches or hoping to seats and beds, waiting to be seen by teams of doctors and nurses.

“The injuries we see are very difficult to treat and the risk of not healing is really very high,” Elisabeth Gross, an MSF coordinator, told me.

“We have a generation of young men, 24 years old, who will not be able to walk properly, who will not be fully functional and will have long-term consequences for the rest of their lives. It is very sad,” she said.

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Video: 'World shouldn't be quiet over nurse killing'

More demonstrations for this week have been fuelled with anger by pictures of medics walking towards the Israeli border fence to retrieve an injured protester. They have their arms in the air and are wearing paramedic vests.

As they walked, one of the group, Ms Najar, was shot and fatally wounded. The funeral of the 21-year-old volunteer in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younes brought thousands onto the streets.

An Israeli investigation into the incident will not quell the anger here and it has all but guaranteed that on the 51st anniversary of the start of the Six Day War, when Israel took over Gaza, there will be more demonstrations and more violence.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for the demonstrations and the violence, and insists they are a cover for attacks on Israeli soldiers and citizens.

Hamas blames Israel and warns that if there is no relaxation of the economic blockade here, things will deteriorate even further.

Amid tight security I met top-ranking Hamas leader Mahmoud al Zahar at his office in Gaza city. The best hope for a relaxation of the tensions here, he said, would be a relaxation of the economic blockade.

“If you, in the west, find a solution for the people, we can, in two months, build a transit sea port to allow our people to be treated outside and allow the social and financial aid to come through these channels to be distributed for the poor people,” he told me.

Mahmoud al-Zahar talks to Stuart Ramsay
Image: Mahmoud al Zahar talks to Stuart Ramsay

“I think this will ease this state of confrontation on the border. But if that (situation) will continue, I think the next wave will be more bloody,” he said.

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For most observing this crisis, it would seem that after ten years some sort of negotiation about the economic blockade of Gaza and a discussion about the relations of the vast majority of the people here in Gaza with the state of Israel are needed.

But there are no negotiations. So it goes on. And the violence will most likely get worse.

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