Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip on Friday converged on the strip’s eastern border with Israel, where they are holding rallies reaffirming their right to return to their ancestral homes in historical Palestine.
Friday’s mass demonstrations are also intended to pressure Israel to lift its decade-long blockade of the coastal enclave.
The rallies have been endorsed by virtually all Palestinian political factions, which have repeatedly stressed the event’s peaceful nature.
By midday, tens of thousands of Palestinians had already arrived to different areas along the border in the northern, central and southern Gaza Strip, according to correspondents in the area.
Tent camps have been set up along the border — only 700 meters from the border fence in some cases — for planned open-ended sit-ins following Friday’s marches.
Palestinian activists have described the tent camps as “the staging point for our return to the land from which we were expelled in 1948”.
Some of those taking part in Friday’s marches have scrawled the names of the towns or villages from which their families were displaced above the entrances of their tents.
Organizers have also provided free bussing to the border for anyone who wants to take part in the event.
Only hours before the marches kicked off Friday morning, a Palestinian farmer was killed when an Israeli artillery shell struck his farmland in the southern Gaza Strip.
By midday, Palestinian health officials were already reporting injuries from the border.
“Three marchers were moderately injured by Israeli army gunfire in different areas along the strip’s eastern border,” Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement.
Dubbed the “Great Return March”, Friday’s rallies in the Gaza Strip also coincide with Land Day, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976.