JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of Palestinians gathered Sunday night along the separation fence with Israel, pressing ahead with a series of protests staged by the territory’s Hamas rulers aimed at pressuring Israel to ease a stifling blockade of the territory.
It was the second consecutive nighttime border protest and took place hours after Israeli warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes on alleged Hamas targets in response to the unrest. Hamas officials have promised to hold nightly protests all week.
“The Zionist occupation bears all the repercussions and consequences of the tightening of the siege on Gaza and the escalation of the humanitarian crisis among its residents,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “No calm or stability will be achieved as long as our people lack a free and dignified life.”
Israel, with Egypt’s help, has maintained a tight blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election.
Israel says the closure, which tightly restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities. Critics say the closure, which has devastated the economy, amounts to collective punishment.
Israel has tightened the blockade since an 11-day war against Hamas in May while Egypt tries to broker a long-term cease-fire. Israel has demanded that Hamas return the remains of two dead soldiers and release two captive Israeli civilians in exchange for easing the blockade.
Hamas has grown increasingly angry over the lack of progress in the cease-fire talks. Its operatives have launched a series of incendiary balloons across the border in recent weeks, sparking a series of wildfires in southern Israel.
Hamas also has allowed a number of violent demonstrations along the border.
Two Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy and a Hamas militant, have been killed from Israeli gunfire, while an Israeli soldier was critically wounded when a militant shot him in the head at point-blank range during one of the protests.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking before returning to Israel from Washington, said the pressure on Hamas would continue.
“We will operate in Gaza according to our interests,” he said in Hebrew on the tarmac.
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought four wars since Hamas took power, most recently in May.
At least 260 Palestinians were killed during May’s Hamas-Israel war, including 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.