Hamas says it will continue with protests

GAZA/JERUSALEM • Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off dramatically, with Israel yesterday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire.

Gaza‘s dominant Islamist Hamas movement, denying any pressure from neighbouring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, said they would continue, even as far smaller numbers of Palestinians gathered in protest tents.

The US State Department said on Tuesday that Hamas was using the controversial unveiling of the American embassy in Jerusalem as an “excuse” to encourage violence.

When pressed by journalists in Washington, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert refused to follow other Western countries in calling for restraint from Israel, or even all parties.

While asserting that “we regret the loss of life”, Ms Nauert also reiterated the White House position: “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Gaza medics said two Palestinians were shot dead during Tuesday‘s demonstrations along the 51km border. On Monday, 60 were killed in a far greater turnout on the day the United States relocated its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.

Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks across the frontier fence and to distract from Gaza‘s internal problems. Hamas denies this.

Gaza analyst Akram Attallah, noting the smaller number of protesters since Monday‘s deaths, said: “I can see there is a retreat because of the Israeli bloody response… but Friday will represent an indicator to where things are going.”

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 Mr 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”.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE